The film tells the story of a woman who begins to see things and experience strange physical changes, it seems that there's something trying to gain possession of her and she has to find a way to fend it off before it's too late.
However it's clear that what was written was not what was filmed, or rather what made it through the editing room. For whatever reason this film is cut so lean there's not a single millimetre of fat, it's incredible, and it's something you notice from the opening few sequences.
Before I continue with the review let me just say that this is the second film I've reviewed that I've watched digitally. Before now I've only watched films on my PC or laptop that I would have no intention of seeing in a cinema or on my home cinema and certainly no intention of reviewing. Usually they've been films that I'm curious just to see how bad they really are.
Now I have an iTouch to watch some films digitally, a distribution method which should make real sense for studios wishing to get films reviewed, and I will be reviewing a number of films that appear through this medium both on the iTouch and using it's TV output onto a bigger screen. These reviews will most likely get their own section very soon.
The film follows a young girl who begins to have nightmares and visions about a strange child, and very quickly her life becomes haunted by his image. It's not just her mind that the child is trying to enter however, there are physical changes happening to her, and people around her seem to be pulled into the strange happenings. Something is trying to invade her life and push other people away from her, and she doesn't have much time to stop it.
The film doesn't let up even from the opening, and the pace of the plot development is frantic. Immediately we're racing from key moment to key moment with a string of portents opening the film to get you into the main plot and the characters developed, and in this respect it feels very much like another film I reviewed recently, Star Trek (Filmstalker review).
The characters are developed during the movement of the plot, while the story is driving forward we'll get minimum development, and sometimes characters aren't developed at all, they are just introduced as what they are or through their function in the film, one or two characters even fall by the wayside and don't seem to have too much involvement in the overall film.
While that might usually be a really bad thing for a film, here it's done really well and the editing has been beneficial to keeping the story and the film intact. Yes it's incredibly lean and moves forward at every opportunity, but it also doesn't feel like there are huge leaps made in the story or that we're ever missing anything.
However what does happen is that come the end of the film there's a real rush to explain events and tell the crux or the twist in the tale, and this is done in a series of short, rapid fire, reflective scenes.
This would work in some films, and I'm sure it did here before the editing process, but it doesn't feel like it connects with the scenes previously in the film. There was no feeling, such as you had with Sixth Sense (and no, that doesn't mean it's the same twist here, just the structure of the story), where you were recognising the signs and the moments from earlier in the film and putting two and two together, well okay there was one scene but there was only one for me and I ended up being disappointed by no real revelation, just a quick explanation of why it all happened.
It did feel very much like it was lazy story telling, or that there had been so much cut out of the main film that they had to explain it in some way. Either way, it just didn't work, the impact was lost because the scenes it referred to in the early part of the film either weren't there, or were so unmemorable that I forgot them.
That said, there are some very strong aspects to the film. The acting is good, Idris Elba and Gary Oldman just don't have enough to do in the film, neither do Carla Gugino or James Remar, and that's a real shame because for Gugino's character of the mother there seems to be such a rich story to be had, and both Elba and Oldman's characters go through one hell of a journey that could be great to see more of in terms of their reactions and dealing with it.
Oldman has one moment where he has a scene by himself, a scene very reminiscent of something out of The Exorcist or The Omen, and it's damn creepy. However there's not enough, and he sees an event he can't explain which shakes him up a little and he's straight onto saying he'll help the girl.
Odette Yustman also gives a good performance as the lead. She's strong when she needs to be and emotionally fragile at other times. She carries off some of the scenes of more extreme emotion well and looks good at the same time.
Apple iTouch widescreen
I was very surprised by the picture on the iTouch, particularly as The Unborn has makes use of dark and low lighting throughout the film and I thought that the portable device would have trouble coping with all the blacks, but I was surprised how well it did and how rich the blacks were for such a screen. Another misconception I appear to have been carrying was that it couldn't keep up with action and fast paced movement, and like low end LCD's it just won't be able to keep the picture sharp, not so, I didn't notice a single blur or loss of definition during the action sequences. I was very pleasantly surprised. The picture was better than a lot of the low end LCD's that I've seen.
Stereo, Apple iTouch with Sony embedded earphones
Another problem area for me to get my head around was the audio. I'm not only used to a huge LCD screen at home, but surround sound with 5.1 speakers and full high-definition audio, how could stereo cope? Well let's not pretend too much, it really can't compare. However the sound is clear, crisp and strong, and using embedded earphones rather than the standard Apple ones improves the quality and range of sound, and it does well to immerse you in the film.
I can imagine that there's a director's cut version of The Unborn that is much better than this version. Although it plays out okay it never really has the punch that it promises, it keeps hinting at it, but falls short by under developing characters, relationships and the story itself, preferring to concentrate on leaping through the scare and action scenes and leaving the story explanation till the last closing minutes.
There's a strong cast, it's filmed well, there are some great horror moments, there's lots of promise of a strong plot, and it certainly builds up to one. However it plays out like you would expect and the surprise ending that reflects back on the story just doesn't seem to connect where it should have.
The Unborn is an okay horror film, but if there was a longer edit, one that connected more with the story, and gave us more of the lead actors, then this film could be much better.