Jordan Hiller's TOP 25 essential Jewish films continues!!!
17. THE UNBORN
Holey Holey Holey. Holey is the Unborn/ Movie of reactionary trends/ You fill the earth with your senselessness.
More transparent than the pair of mesh tzi-tzis I wore in seventh grade and less convincing than an Artscroll mussar book, David (Batman Begins) Goyer’s supernatural thriller is assembled in the cookie cutter mold of The Grudge, One Missed Call, and a cavalcade of similar The Ring knock offs. The winning formula as dictated by The Ring is exactly that, a winning formula. Cold, bleak, and bare landscapes. A statuesque beauty who knows how to wear a pair of underpants in mortal distress. A horrifying secret that only some old lady knows and reveals reluctantly in a fit of trembling. A somber eyed child possessed. Sudden jarring images of gore accompanied by a soundtrack of shrieking strings. It’s all present and accounted for with The Unborn. Of course The Ring was released in 2002, so with each retread, the audience’s been-there-done-that attitude causes the formula to slip from winning to tired. A clever spin on the material is necessary to maintain anyone’s interest and ensure a worthwhile cinematic outcome. And behold, Goyer’s script actually provides a unique approach to the proceedings, at least from a conceptual standpoint. You see this Goyer is a Jewer and he intriguingly sought to create yet another standard supernatural suspense flick, but this time by combining the basic elements of two premium Jewish nightmares, one factual and the other fantastical.
The Unborn struggles to tell the story of Casey Beldon, a girl with no apparent charm or distinction, who begins suffering macabre visions of (what else) blood and bugs, as well as having (you guessed it) freakish encounters with a creepy neighborhood boy. Oh yeah, and her eye color begins to change from brown to Kirk Lazarus blue. If you stay on board despite the film’s quality it turns out all the spooky meshugas has to do with – SPOILER ALERT, BUT AT THE SAME TIME IT SAVES YOU FROM SEEING THE MOVIE – her mother being the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Nazi experiments on twins, and a murderous dybbuk thrown in for good measure. On paper, the relationship between Nazi atrocities and a mythical angry Jewish soul in limbo seems to hint at a provocative and bone chilling premise. Goyer even includes Gary Oldman sporting a kippah as a rabbi who explains to Casey about the kabalistic sefiros and in the film’s embarrassingly unscary climax butchers Tehillim while performing an exorcism.
So why don’t all these innovations work on screen? Well, because Goyer’s script is lazier than a shlemiel and more incoherent than a shlemazel. The creative undercurrent flowing beneath the recycled playbook of a story is wasted in order to simply birth another canned and meaningless jumble of cheap frights (because most of the teenagers with movie tickets dollars won’t be able to tell the difference anyway). The Unborn, in a genre that requires minimal credibility just to hold matters together for an hour and a half, does not make a lick of sense. Seriously. A hefty treatise could be written discussing the preposterousness and plot flaws in The Unborn.
So, better question, why is The Unborn an essential Jewish film considering how oddly vague it is in terms of actual Judaism (Casey, though technically Jewish, deals with her situation as if an outsider)?
The answer is that The Unborn marks a defining moment in modern Jewish history. With The Unborn, apparently, it officially has become kosher for movies to commercially exploit the extermination and torture of six million Jews. This advancement has been building up over the years, but with Goyer’s film the door swings all the way open. The closest I can recall where The Holocaust was used as a throwaway narrative device in such an insincere popcorn film is the opening scene of X-Men where Magneto’s origin was revealed (or for those of you a bit older with some obscure film savvy, 1987’s silly and fun The Monster Squad introduced a Shoah survivor who assisted the kids in destroying Dracula, Frankenstein et al. and delivered the line (paraphrased) “I know about monsters” as he exposed a number tattooed forearm).
I am not here to sermonize whether it is right or wrong to consciously and blatantly utilize genocide in order to turn a profit. In this case, just to acknowledge the sea change suffices. As Jews, we are not above it and it should have been expected. The Holocaust is a gruesomely ugly era in world history, but it has for a long time been a matter of the public domain and free for all creative types to manipulate or disrespect as they deem fit in the name of artistic expression. In 1992 Clive Barker and Bernard Rose wrote Candyman, and that supernatural thriller treated the slavery, murder, and torture of black people in America much the same way that Goyer treats the horrific experiments performed on Jewish children by Nazi “scientists” in the concentration camps during World War II. The death of heroic American soldiers, police officers, and firefighters has been fair game in Hollywood since day one. The Holocaust was not going to remain untouchable forever. But, you know what? Watching a trashy film like The Unborn depict a Jewish child being prodded and injected by Nazis in the name of shock entertainment…it feels too soon. Two generations removed and the nerves are still quite raw. How ironic then that what The Unborn represents manages to be a thousand times more disturbing than anything Goyer captured with his pen or camera.