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'The Unborn'

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.

(PG-13)

PLOT A college student discovers a family secret dating to Nazi Germany.

CAST Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Jane Alexander

LENGTH 1:35

PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE An occasionally effective, mostly dumb but generally passable horror flick.

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