‘The Unborn’: Waiting For Jumby, By Kurt Loder

A movie in which ... oh, never mind.

Even really bad horror movies aren’t always unwatchable. I don’t know how many times I’ve subjected myself to Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate” in an effort to penetrate the mystery of how someone can turn a terrific book into a truly terrible film. I still haven’t figured it out, but I’ll probably keep trying.

That won’t be the case with [movie id="380628"]“The Unborn,”[/movie] all reasons for the wretchedness of which are absolutely clear. Director David Goyer’s new movie isn’t precisely unwatchable — it’s so oppressively idiotic, so flagrantly derivative, that it drains you of the energy necessary to get up and walk out. You just wish it would stop. But it won’t. You give it every opportunity, but it continues not to. It may be the longest 87-minute movie ever made.

This is an exorcism flick that rips off “The Exorcist” right down to the head-spin and the spider walk. The “twist,” for lack of a more feeble term, is that it’s a Jewish exorcism flick. Well, sort of. Instead of a Catholic priest battling the dark forces of whatever, we now have a rabbi — but a rabbi played by Gary Oldman. (Since Oldman also appeared in “The Dark Knight,” which Goyer scripted, there’s the feeling here of a major favor being done — one that Goyer may never be able to repay.) Oldman’s Rabbi Sendak is the last resort of a tormented college student named Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman, of “Cloverfield”), who lends the movie its only really gripping moments when she walks around in her underwear. Casey has been seeing some way-strange things lately: a weird neighbor kid, an even weirder dead kid, a dog in a mask. One time, when she was puking her guts up in a nightclub toilet stall, she noticed an oddly ornate, well, glory hole in the wall — and all of a sudden a legion of slimy beetles came pouring through it. (Hey, it could’ve been worse.) And the weird neighbor kid keeps telling her that “Jumby wants to be born.” She doesn’t know what his problem is, but she’s afraid it’ll soon be her problem, too. We know this with an arm-twisted certainty.

For reasons too convoluted to concisely relate, Casey hooks up with an old woman, a Holocaust survivor named Sofi (Jane Alexander), who’s also a psychic. Sofi informs Casey that she’s a twin, and that she should beware of mirrors, “because what is a twin but another kind of mirror?” Okay. Now the plot takes a hard, squealing left turn into Auschwitz, where, according to Sofi, Nazi doctors were “obsessed with twins,” and conducted “horrible experiments that blurred the lines between science and the occult.” Sofi then fills Casey in on the evil spirits called dybbuks, and recommends to her a Hebrew exorcism manual called the “Book of Mirrors.” Conveniently, Casey is able to locate one of these in the college library. She casually stuffs the priceless ancient tome into her backpack, lugs it over to Rabbi Sendak and tells him, “I need an exorcism.” “I’ll make some calls,” he says.

I’d ask you to bear with me, but I don’t think I can bear with me myself. There are all manner of cheap jolts, of the sort that require people to go poking about in dark basements; and there’s a basketball coach who’s also a priest (an Episcopal priest — can’t anyone find the real deal in this movie?), and a couple of pals on hand for hideous deaths. And of course Jumby, too. There’s also a generous supply of lines that snap your head back with the force of their inanity. Trying to describe the hellspawn dybbuk that’s turning her life into a blood feast, Casey says, “It’s not like us. I don’t think it even comes from the same universe.” Something similar might be said of this movie.

The picture is such an embarrassment, Goyer has to be hoping that very few people will see it. I have a feeling he may get lucky.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Unborn.”

Check out Kurt Loder’s reviews of “Bride Wars” and “Silent Light,” which also open this week, and his picks for the best movies and performances of 2008 .

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