Partway through "The Unborn," an elderly Holocaust survivor writes an ominous letter to her young granddaughter: "It has fallen upon you to finish what was started in Auschwitz."
That's a lot of pressure to put on a petite horror-film heroine, especially one who repeatedly forgets to wear something more than low-rise panties and a ribbed tank while inspecting strange noises in her darkened house. It's also a lot of historical weight to dump on a genre flick. Then again, any film that features Gary Oldman as a rabbi with exorcism powers isn't asking to be taken seriously.
The granddaughter is Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman, "Cloverfield"), a student at Anycollege whose memories of her mother's suicide are developing into full-fledged hallucinations. Casey is startled - even if we aren't - to see a creepy kid standing in the road, a ghoul behind the bathroom mirror, etc. After visiting her long-lost grandmother (Jane Alexander), Casey pieces together something about an unborn child, a concentration camp and a dybbuk, a malevolent spirit from Jewish folklore. Eventually she seeks help from Rabbi Sendak (Oldman), who may have the power to save her.
Writer-director David S. Goyer pulls every trick he can to get a rise from his audience, with varying results. The freak-out sequences (hey, everything's back to normal!) are overly familiar and the pop-up monsters quickly lose their novelty. But a frenetic chase through an old-age home packs a few punches, as does the crunchy climax. It helps if you haven't seen "The Exorcist," or for that matter any horror film.
If the use of Nazi atrocities as a MacGuffin for cheap thrills offends you, "The Unborn" isn't your movie. If, however, you appreciate the sight of a half-naked beauty being terrorized by potato bugs, look no further.
PLOT A college student discovers a family secret dating to Nazi Germany.
CAST Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Jane Alexander
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE An occasionally effective, mostly dumb but generally passable horror flick.