Movie reviewers who can’t think of anything original to say love to spot trends, which is why you may have heard that there are a bunch of movies with Holocaust themes (“The Reader,” “Defiance”) in the air right now.
Most such surveys, however, neglect to include 2009’s first lunk-headed horror offering. But sure enough, “The Unborn” ties its story line to Auschwitz. This is the only halfway interesting idea in the picture.
Otherwise, “The Unborn” trades in two horror conventions: exorcism and the evil twin. Pity poor Casey (Odette Yustman, from “Cloverfield”), a baby sitter who discovers she once had a twin, at least in the womb.
The ghost of this twin is undoubtedly a dybbuk (a spirit of Jewish folklore), or so believes the local rabbi (Gary Oldman). Oldman provides the movie’s only bits of fun, as we steer into the possibility of a Jewish “Omen,” with shards of religious lore dragged in to prop up an otherwise straightforward horror flick.
Turns out this (along with the Holocaust) is just window dressing. Director-writer David S. Goyer is more intent on delivering the current horror-movie Greatest Hits package, which features rotating heads, flayed torsos, and open-jawed demons.
Goyer worked on the scripts to the last couple of “Batman” movies, which might explain the presence of Oldman in the cast. Oldman goes for the flat-out Rod Steiger “Amityville Horror” approach to his exorcist role, and why not? This is not the milieu for under-playing.
The other classy actors in the cast, such as Jane Alexander and Idris Elba, are harder to explain. Elba plays an Episcopalian priest brought in to help with the exorcism, so late in the story he’s almost an afterthought. Did he get thrown in because somebody looked at the script and said, “too Jewish”? Can’t Protestants can get their own exorcism movie?
Whatever intrigue is built up in the early going dissipates when Goyer simply settles for an exorcism as his grand finale. Cue the wind machines and start intoning.
“The Unborn” isn’t even as interesting or scary as it sounds; it plays more like a contractual obligation being resentfully fulfilled. Good horror, and even good-bad horror, requires commitment. Nothing kills the scares like laziness.