AUGUST 11, 2008
A few nights ago, I got a test invite for a movie in which they wouldn’t tell me the title, the actors, the director, anything. The only time they don’t tell you the name of the movie is when it is high profile and they want to keep it from getting overcrowded with fans of that particular film (due to the actor, the franchise, whatever). All the guy would tell me was that it was for a PG-13 horror movie aimed at females. So I’m racking my brain trying to think of what it could be, and then I see a poster for Twilight. HOLY SHIT, I thought (actually I might have said that aloud). While I have no interest in that movie, I do know that the fanbase for it is completely insane, and having possibly the first review of the movie version would be very good for my little site (well, presuming that those crazy Twilight fans bought shit from Amazon). So I go to the screening, and I had to sign an NDA. The NDA said something about “Crystal Lake Productions”, which got me even MORE excited. We all know what Crystal Lake is. But then I saw David Goyer drive up, and I knew it was The Unborn. Goddammit.
Not that I was completely disappointed. I like Goyer, and I knew the film starred two key draws. One is Gary Oldman, a guy who doesn’t sign on to just any movie, which signified that this one might be at least interesting, possibly actually good. The other is Odette Yustman, from Cloverfield. She could star in one of those movies about a girl who joins a prestigious dance studio and becomes the big star and I would see it, because she is almost nonsensically hot. So while I was still disappointed (why all the secrecy? It’s not like it’s a high profile movie that they would need to control a rabid audience for), I was still eager to see it.
And for the first 40 minutes or so, it’s a pretty solid film. It’s a bit like a J-Horror film, in that weird shit is happening (including a creepy kid) and we don’t really understand why. Information is delivered in small chunks, not large expositionary speeches that stop the movie cold. Some of the scares are cheap (thousands of bugs!) but others are quite effective (rare for a PG-13 film; I actually jumped at one part). And I really liked how the backstory involved Jewish religious beliefs, an area that is not often explored in horror films, even ones aimed at older audiences.
Another thing that made me want to grab Goyer and kiss him (or at least say “nice work”) is the very first scene of the film. We see Odette jogging, and she sees a child’s glove on the ground. This puzzles her, so she stops and picks it up. At this point, any self-respecting horror fan should know that it’s a dream, because who the hell would care about a discarded glove on the ground? So then some typical dream shit occurs, and then BAM! We cut not to Odette waking up and gasping, but later the next night, when she is on the phone with her friend talking about the dream we all know damn well she just had. Granted, a shot of Odette in a nighty would be perfectly fine, but I actually almost applauded that Goyer spared us the cliché moment.
Unfortunately, the 3rd act blunders, and badly so. Gary Oldman is introduced far too late, and no explanation is given for why Odette seeks him out. But worse, Oldman turns out to be not very important, because he pretty much hands the exorcism over to Idris Elba (in a scene that makes even less sense – he gives the “I don’t believe you, but I believe you believe” speech, right after he sees an upside down headed dog. Does he see that type of thing so often that he can’t be bothered to believe it is a sign of the supernatural?). Elba is another actor who elevates his material (see: The Reaping) but his character and Oldman’s really should have been combined. Worse, almost as soon as Elba is introduced, the movie essentially switches to its final scene, which is the exorcism. Before you know it, the exorcism is botched, Elba is turned into a monster, some folks are killed, and the movie is over (with a predictable epilogue to boot). Elba actually spends more time in possessed/zombie makeup than he does without, and I actually got the impression that Oldman didn’t want to do heavy makeup again, so Elba’s character was added to the script just to have some sort of demonic priest “highlight”.
Because of this insanely rushed and underdeveloped third act, the cut of the movie I saw was only 78 minutes long without end credits, which is ridiculous for a movie with a fairly detailed backstory, several surviving characters (one of Odette’s friends, and her dad, disappear from the movie entirely after a half hour or so), etc. And Carla Cugino plays Odette’s mother, seen for a total of 8 seconds in a home video. Why bother hiring someone of Cugino’s stature to appear in what can’t even be considered a cameo? Cameos should be used for A-list talent who show up as a surprise. Like, Sean Connery in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves – THAT’S a cameo. This is just a case of a well known actress playing a glorified extra.
Granted, I’m not the target audience for the film. I have a penis and can legally rent a car, and legally buy beer to get drunk and subsequently crash that car (12 dollar a day full insurance, wooo!). But I’d rather a film just sucked all the way through rather than start off strong and suddenly veer so much off the rails. Given the fact that they are obviously a long way off to release (I have to laugh at the guy who thought my “secret” movie was Mirrors, which is 3 days away as of this writing), hopefully there is still time to beef up the 3rd act, utilize its supporting cast more properly (Odette appears in all but two scenes of the film – give the girl a break!), and yet keep the most important scene of the film: the one where Odette appears in her underwear.
Because it was actually the scene I jumped at! It’s a scary mirror sequence! My enjoyment had nothing to do with the underwear.
What say you?
(NOTE – This review was based on the test screening version. I checked out the final version on opening weekend and nothing really changed. There was a classroom scene that I don’t really remember, and I think another flashback scene with Carla, but otherwise all of the things I liked/disliked remained exactly the same, right down to the nonsensically rushed third act.)