Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not the One With Jewish Gary Oldman

If there’s one thing the woman in me finds frightening, it’s pregnancy.

Think about it.

There’s something GROWING INSIDE YOU. EATING what you eat. INHALING what you breathe. FEELING what you feel. It’s just SITTING there like some couch surfing broke friend, giving you nothing in return for nine months but morning sickness, bodily restrictions, and, if you’re taking your prenatal vitamins, outstanding hair.

(Based on observing friends and family carrying children, my understanding is that the only benefits one reaps during pregnancy are an increased chance of getting a seat on the subway and truly outstanding hair.)

Yeah yeah yeah, I know. The horrors of stretch marks and labor pains are eradicated by the birth of your beautiful perfect baby and all that jazz. Sure. I believe you. But what if said offspring is…

Not. Quite. Right.

Quick Plot: Brooke Adams plays Virginia Marshall, a children’s book author happily married to a successful lawyer and living the white collar dream of any American in the 1980s. The only thing missing is a baby, something Virginia and hubby Brad have been trying to make for several years but have hit roadblocks with both infertility and the nagging specter of Virginia’s occasional bouts with depression.

Enter James Karen as a wait-list-worthy gynecology superstar known for his stunning success with in vitro treatment. Past beneficiaries include Virginia’s annoyingly proud pal Cindy and a young Kathy Griffin’s New Age man-hating girlfriend. Never mind the fact that Cindy’s supposedly genius toddler drowned her older brother or that Kathy Griffin’s wife has turned violent. The baby seems fine so all must be in order…right?

The Unborn comes 17 long years after the better known mutated killer baby film It’s Alive but still follows in its tiny footsteps. Both films are interested in the oddness of the childbirth process, though The Unborn focuses most of its attention on the actual period of pregnancy. Where Larry Cohen’s wonderful It’s Alive trilogy was ultimately about a reluctant man coming to terms with fatherhood, The Unborn is more a scientifically minded Rosemary’s Baby exploring a hesitant mother-to-be learning her reservations might have been more justified than common cold feet.

As Virginia, Brooke Adams is the real strength of The Unborn. She’s a hard-working professional woman with a sarcastic sense of humor, someone who has to fight the urge to roll her eyes every time fellow women speak of the glow of motherhood and wonders of their perfect children. Both the writing and performance are impressively sharp for Virginia, making her come off as an actual person that you or I could certainly know (or even, in some cases, actually be). It’s a shame then that the ending ultimately betrays her.

I’m not going to spoil The Unborn, but if you’ve seen almost any My Child Is Evil film, there’s a good chance you’ll see the final shot coming. Well, I doubt your imagination will be that specific since once we meet the baby, it’s quite a unique little work of puppetry, but still: the outcome is obvious, and yet, quite unearned.

Directed by Rodman Leprechaun 2 Flender, The Unborn is a far better film than its VHS-only reputation might lead you to believe. Because Adams and the character-based writing (by “Henry Dominic, which is apparently a pseudonym for the Catwoman team of John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris) is so good, the audience is led to believe we’re watching an ambitious thriller about parenthood, the medical industry, and what it means to carry a child. Virginia’s past with clinical depression is a fascinating story thread that goes far in establishing her fears even before the mysterious rashes and cat-killing fetus shows its true colors. Much like how It’s Alive began with parents who almost terminated their pregnancy at its first signs, The Unborn starts with a self-aware woman unsure if she has what it takes to be a good mother. Sure, the film ultimately resolves that, but it seems like there was a more interesting answer to that question.

“Dominic’s” script also flirts with some amusing satire on the general culture of pregnancy and parenthood. Virginia’s yuppie friends set the bar for having obnoxious pride in their kids, something dashed rather horribly when one of them commits fratricide. The lighter touch is Griffin and her girlfriend espousing crystal energy and placenta power to a group of dubious non-lesbians. It’s still funny 21 years later.

So what doesn’t work about The Unborn? Sadly, the actual horror movie portion. Once we meet Mini Marshall, all the carefully wrought tension evaporates into bad puppetry and a rushed conclusion. At just 80 minutes long, The Unborn could certainly have taken more time in its resolution, though any more time spent showing the actual monster would have only hurt all the work building it up.

Ah well. The baby still looks better than Bijou Philips’ monster kid in the It’s Alive remake.

As does the crayon drawing made by my cat.

High Points
With the help of a surprisingly smart (when dealing with character) script, Brooke Adams absolutely nails the role of Virginia. Like Mia Farrow’s Rosemary, Virginia is pretty much onscreen for the film’s entire running length, making it vital that Adams registers with the audience. She does.

Low Points

Lessons Learned
A dozen or so children still read in this country

There is something called placenta recipes and they are apparently delicious

The best venue to reveal the horror of expensive fertility clinics is generally not a lightweight morning talkshow

Look! It’s…
A young dark-haired Lisa Kudrow as James Karen’s assistant

The Unborn is currently streaming on Netflix and anyone with a passing interest in pregnancy horror will certainly get something out of it. My disappointment comes from the film’s squandered potential, but thanks to Adams’ performance and the occasionally very clever script, the film is still more than worthy of a watch. Especially if, like me, you just want the world to acknowledge how weird the act of pregnancy truly is.


  1. there's always the possibility that the manitou will pop out of there as well.. that would be kindy scary at first..but ultimately adorable.

  2. I wish more movies had the possibility of manitous...