With "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," story man David S. Goyer took his dreams of a modern, realistic Caped Crusader and, with the help of brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, projected them into fully realized comic book masterpieces.
Now, fresh from the success of "The Dark Knight," the director/screenwriter wants to invite you into his nightmares. Literally.
"What happened was I had some free time, and this notion popped in my head. It was kind of a creepy notion, so I just started writing down images and things that scared me or that I found frightening," Goyer said, explaining the genesis of "The Unborn," a supernatural horror film he's currently wrapping. "I wrote it in an unusual way. The movie begins with a dream. I wrote the dream first — the nightmare first — and then let the nightmare kind of dictate what the movie became."
What it became is an "old-school horror movie," Goyer said, replete with nightmare logic and spiritual otherness. In the film, an ancient and terrifying legend is made real for a world-weary woman (Odette Yustman, perhaps best known for her role in "Cloverfield"), who must find a way to repel a spirit before it takes over her body, forcing her to wander the netherworld in its place.
"The notion actually comes from [the Hebraic legend of the] dybbuk, the dybbuk being someone that did something so horrible in this life that it's been barred from entering heaven," Goyer explained of the film's central conceit, which enables the spirit to wander from vessel to vessel, beginning with a young boy. "It doesn't have a body and it's trying to find a body, and the only way that it can get a body is by evicting someone else from their own body. That person then becomes a dybbuk, and the whole process begins anew."
For Goyer, "The Unborn" is a chance to partially revisit one of the themes from his last directorial effort, "The Invisible" — the concept of a wandering or lost soul. "I find the idea of identity — of something else taking over your body — very scary," he said.
But perhaps more important, Goyer asserted, it's a chance to really play with horror imagery, to push his story past convention and into the realm of pure nightmare.
"I did a lot of research into dream imagery, and there's a lot of subtextual stuff in the movie. For instance, there's this recurring theme with this dog, and one of the things a dog is supposed to do is represent the dreamer's unconscious desire or things that they have not yet realized [that are] waiting to be born.
"I never go into full-on Salvador Dalí land, but there's something about how this young girl's perceptions get subtly altered, and sometimes she's not sure whether what she's seeing is really happening or not," he added. "I don't always spell it out — things occur in the waking world that would seem to defy the normal conventions of reality, including some of the images that she has in her dreams that show up in reality on earth."
That means the spirit gets no explanations about why it's here from spiritual adviser Rabbi Sendak (played by Gary Oldman), Goyer confessed. It just is — sorta like that other force of nature Goyer has been credited with reinventing lately.
"It's like everything we did with 'The Dark Knight,' where we didn't really explain the Joker's origin. It's not like every 'i' was dotted or every 't' was crossed," Goyer said matter-of-factly. "It's one of the things that I think help makes things scary."
"The Unborn" is tentatively scheduled for a 2009 release.