A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a review of the PG-13-rated movie and not the unrated DVD version. This horror film, while relatively bloodless, is still totally frightening (as in NOT for younger kids). It's full of freaky, scary stuff like monsters, creatures, and demons. Since the evil entity in the movie can jump from body to body, much of the violence in the film involves un-possessed people lashing out at possessed victims -- including children. There's also lots of talk about abstract, monster-related theological issues (i.e. can a Jewish rite of exorcism protect a non-believer?). A subplot about a Holocaust survivor leads to imagery of Nazi death camps and medical experiments. Because the film's plot revolves around a stillborn twin, there's also disturbing imagery involving pregnancy, birth, and infancy that's used to create shock and horror. Characters also drink, swear, and get intimate (though nothing too sensitive is shown).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Young Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) begins seeing fearful, frightening visions that all involve the phrase "Jumby wants to be born." Casey finds out from her father (James Remar) that Casey had a male twin who died in the womb -- and that their nickname for the him was "Jumby." Haunted by this new information, memories of her mother's suicide, and increasingly bizarre visions, Casey learns that she's being haunted by a diabolical sprit known as a dybbuk -- a dead soul barred from the afterlife -- that has been circling her family for generations in an effort to gain a foothold in this world. The spirt is trying to isolate Casey and break her down; can she keep herself and her friends safe as she tries to convince a skeptical rabbi (Gary Oldman) to perform a Jewish rite of exorcism? Or will Casey be the final victim of a darkness that's stalked her family over long, grim decades?
Is it any good?
The Unborn is just a fair-to-good horror film, but considering how many horror films are outright awful, that puts it far above its peers. Written and directed by David S. Goyer, the film may have fully modern digital effects and high-tech moviemaking, but it also has a nice, retro '70s feel, harkening back to supernatural chillers like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby -- movies in which atmosphere was more important than gore, and supernatural goings-on were treated with a plains-spoken, matter-of-fact directness. Compared to moody-but-plotless horror films like The Grudge or Pulse, The Unborn's stop-the-ghost series of scares feels almost reassuringly old-fashioned.
Yustman (best known from her work in Cloverfield) is a sympathetic and strong protagonist, and Meagan Good gives sassy support as her best friend, while Cam Gigandet (Twilight) is a stalwart boyfriend as Casey's journey becomes more and more perilous. Oldman gives class and grace to what could have been a thankless role as the rabbi Casey turns to for help, and The Wire's Idris Elba also puts life and humanity into a small part.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the film creates shock, tension, and horror with a relative minimum of blood. Is the movie's level of violence and unsettling imagery more or less scary because of its restraint?
Why are audiences drawn to horror movies?
Families can also discuss the role that traditional folklore of possession, demonic spirits, and ghosts plays in the movie. Why do these stories appear so frequently in most cultures?
What role do they have in theology and tradition?
- In theaters: January 9, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: July 7, 2009
- Cast: Cam Gigandet, Gary Oldman, Odette Yustman
- Director: David S. Goyer
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence & terror, disturbing images, thematic material & language including some sexual references
- Last updated: May 28, 2020
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