Either The Unborn is a remake of a movie I’ve already seen, I’ve actually seen this already at some point, or this movie is just so driven by tropes that I might as well have already seen it. I honestly can’t tell.
In some cases, movies that run off of nothing but tropes can still be entertaining. They really have to subvert tropes to hit the ‘good’ level, but if you’ve been following along with this blog for any amount of time, I’m much more interested in entertainment value than structural quality. Because a movie can be perfect in construction and be a terrible bore; my favorite movies are the ones that I can pull the technical quality, sociological strength, and entertainment out of the piece. However, that being said, you can still have a movie that is enjoyable and a valid use of ‘self care’ destressing time and not be that awesome of a film otherwise.
I’m not sure that this one hits that level though. I feel like there’s a lot of plot elements that get a little convoluted and a little overly complicated compared to the rest of the film (how the protagonist finds out the main push of the tension seems a little clunkier than is necessary) and there’s a few points that seem to be slightly out of place for the rest of the film-the ghost, such as it is, seems to be out of sync with the rest of the movie (the clothing especially seems out of place). While this actually is linked to the rest of the plot, the fact that the protagonist never stops and goes ‘hey, why does this ghost not fit in with 2009?’ when she seems to be capable of latching onto every other aspect of the haunting bothers me a little. I know that it’s getting a little compulsive with the details, but it did bother me.
There are a few other points that don’t sit well with me, for quasi-social politics reasons. There is a subplot involving mental illness that plays out in ways that my non-neurotypical self is not entirely thrilled with. While it makes sense for the plot, “I would rather believe my mother was haunted than accept her mental illness” feels a little hysterical and not exactly healthy to me*. I also have issues with pregnancy in horror-it’s a weird way of Othering a state that is deeply connected to women in a way that rarely occurs to men and fatherhood. There’s a weird usage of pregnancy and by extension women/femininity as a vessel, doorway, or other liminal state and strip the humanity out of the woman in question. You are nothing but a means to an end! And then the emphasis gets shifted away from the woman who is endangered, to the unborn child, thus further dehumanizing the character…it just gets very awkward very quickly and it’s very rarely done well.
Do I have to state outright that I feel like it’s not done well here?
I feel like maybe I’m coming down too hard on a film that may be best viewed as a soda and popcorn film. I feel like perhaps I am being slightly harder on this movie than I would otherwise be…because it’s a movie that straddles the possession/haunting line and I sort of wish it were a stronger piece than it is, because there’s so much that could have been done, but the production team went with an established set of tropes instead of pushing envelopes. Even just strengthening the effects would have made this a better film. If you’re the type of person who likes films that play with world folklore [even if in this case it’s just taking out the word ‘ghost’ and replacing it with the word ‘dybbuk’], really likes to watch as much ghost and haunting related horror as you can, or if it’s just a slow, stormy afternoon, then why not watch it? But I’m not recommending seeing this one on the strength of the piece alone.
* I actually am not a reviewer that requires every image to be ‘perfect’, as in, I don’t need every piece to feel like it’s handled in the most accepting, representative way possible. At the end of it, we’re talking about horror. But it is possible to fall too far to the other side where the handling of a image or trait such as gender, race, sexuality, mental health, etc falls into category of a secondary monster in and of itself, where the trait is almost as undesirable as whatever is driving the plot. In some cases that’s a valid angle to portray, especially when it is an active motivation on the part of a character or is pivotal to the actions taken in place driving the story line [Psycho wouldn’t be Psycho if we were taking a loving, open stance on mental health], but if it’s just an added layer of interaction and therefore crosses the line into stigma, I have issue with the usage. While it might have made a weaker image, the fact that the character here is quicker to accept ‘possession’ than to accept ‘depression’ is a major issue in terms of mental health stigmatization.