It's tough to know what to make of filmmaker David S. Goyer these days, but here's a simple rule: If he's credited as a screenwriter, you might be treated to something as amusing as Blade 2, as multi-layered as Dark City, or as fantastic as Batman Begins ... but if you happen to wander into a movie he's directed, then you're stuck watching stuff like Blade: Trinity, The Invisible, or his most recent (The Unborn), which is just about as ridiculously inert a horror movie as you're ever likely to chuckle over. Left to his own devices, and with no assistance from the likes of Christopher Nolan, Alex Proyas, or Guillermo del Toro, well, let's not be mean. Suffice it to say I consider David S. Goyer a really excellent screenwriter -- and my opinion of his directorial skills is pretty much the dead opposite.
For those who've never seen a worthless, neutered, PG-13 horror movie, here's the gist of what The Unborn has to offer: A beautiful young woman (Cloverfield's Odette Yustman) finds herself creeped out by a seemingly undead kid who won't leave her alone. That's literally the entire plot, which is why Goyer has to throw every single leftover ingredient into the stew. Since "undead kids" haven't been scary since (maybe) the very first J-horror movie, the writer/director opts to throw two tons of random nonsense into the mix, just to make sure the movie A) has enough unrelated "shock" moments to fill a two-minute trailer, and B) just enough wheel-spinning to fill 82 endless minutes. What begins as a seemingly simple story about a girl and a ghost slowly transforms into a kitchen sink affair that involves demonic insects, dead babies, discolored eyeballs, an old lady with a hilariously bad accent, a nice flashback side-trip to Auschwitz (?), and a bunch of dogs who have their heads on upside down. This stuff is scary in the same way that twelve random ingredients from your kitchen is soup.
And then there's our leading lady. There's no denying that Ms. Yustman is one seriously adorable gal. But while she did fine work with her (small-ish) Cloverfield role, I think it's safe to say that this gal is no Streep in training. Goyer makes full use of Yustman's two expressions, and the costume designers clearly had a ball with this newly-arrived barbie doll. No matter how grim or horrifying a scene is meant to be, there's Yustman in YET ANOTHER perfectly pretty new outfit*, makeup perfect, hair teased, breasts extra-perky ... and Goyer never misses an opportunity to deliver some blatant cleavage shots and oh-so-essential sequences involving our leading lady's butt-cheeks. (* Seriously, I've seen Broadway shows with fewer wardrobe changes. It seems like a dumb thing to complain about, but I don't like it when a movie feels more like a Gap ad than a ... movie.)
But in comparison to her co-stars, Ms. Yustman may indeed be the belle of the ball. Meagan Good plays Yustman's best pal, a powerfully unpleasant and negative young woman who never once says anything intelligent or helpful. Then there's the boyfriend, who is inconsequential at the best of moments -- and then he just vanishes from the flick for about 25 minutes. At least the kids have some screen time; not as much can be said for the veterans of the cast. James Remar has two scenes as the world's most ineffective father, the usually great Carla Gugino shows up in flashbacks and has zero dialog, and Gary Oldman pops up near the end as an Exorcist Rabbi. (Yes, really.) If only the resulting scenes were as amusing as they sound on paper. One could also take exception at the film's languid pacing, stunningly familiar scare scenes, and powerfully sloppy editing gaffes, but what's the point, really?
Basically, if The Unborn were two degrees dumber, it'd be the funniest movie of the past seven years. As it stands, one can only watch the lunacy parade across the screen and wonder "How did the guy who co-wrote The Dark Knight think THIS was a good idea for a horror movie?" Frankly there's not a theme, a scare, a character, or a concept in The Unborn that you haven't already yawned through during The Messengers, One Missed Call, or just about any other (mostly PG-13) horror movie that wasn't really made for horror fans in the first place. But what's that? Who would make a horror movie that's NOT for horror fans? Lots of people. And they do it every damn month. Once in a while they hit paydirt with some dung-heap like Prom Night and then we get a bunch more teeny-bopper pseudo-horror flicks that MIGHT have a solid opening weekend -- but are instantly forgotten and never remembered with any degree of fondness. I guess that big opening weekend is a lot more important than a quality effort and a strong shelf life.
Special note: The MPAA gave this film a PG-13 rating, and they should be ashamed of themselves. Call me sensitive, but any horror flick (no matter how lame) that has a Nazi doctor sticking a syringe into the eyeball of a small child should, I dunno, probably be rated R. But I guess the ratings board was too busy counting the cleavage shots and listening for F-bombs to notice the actual SUBJECT MATTER. As usual.