Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) is plagued by horrible dreams involving an evil child (Ethan Cutkosky) with eerie blue eyes. In her dream she discovers a piece of pottery upon which is painted the portrait of a mother and unborn child. Her best friend (Meagan Good) psychoanalyses the dream as residual trauma following the suicide of her mother (a cameo from Carla Gugino). Then, whilst babysitting her neighbours kids, Casey hears a scary voice over the baby monitor rasping: “Jumby wants to be born”, and young Matty (Atticus Shaffer) attacks her with a mirror. Shortly thereafter, Casey’s eyes start to change colour and her father (James Remar) reveals she had a twin brother who died in childbirth. A trail of clues leads to her long-lost grandmother, Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander), an Auschwitz survivor and victim of a Nazi experiment to render a malevolent spirit called a Dybbuk in human form. Now that same monster is after Casey.
A step up from Blade: Trinity (2004) (but then it couldn’t get much worse), writer-director David S. Goyer aims for a J-horror atmosphere with this supernatural horror. Shot in bluish-grey hues with surreal imagery that is sometimes silly, sometimes unsettling. Creepy kids, strange noises in the dark and an 8mm film laden with skin-crawling images, instantly recall The Ring (1998) and its ilk. But Goyer’s grab-bag of horror movie riffs on The Shining (1980), The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) (heck, even Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)) casts subtlety to the wind and risks turning his film into a three-ring circus. Slimy bugs erupt through walls, Casey floats across the ceiling, her mom morphs into a hideous ghoul with a bottled foetus, an old man contorts into a freaky, spider-walking zombie.
Predictably, almost everyone who tries to help Casey meets a wacky, Omen style death. There are some potent shocks, but Goyer struggles to string them together with finesse. His script admirably tries to balance some mildly philosophical discourse about death, the shape of the universe and the afterlife, with schlock elements like having lovely Odette Yustman wander around in her underwear. The premise draws from interesting threads, including Nazi genetic experiments (with a scientist who may or may not be Josef Mengele), Hebrew lore and warped ideas like twins being living doorways into supernatural worlds. An understated performance from Gary Oldman as Rabbi Joseph Sendak helps sell some of the more outlandish ideas, while Cloverfield (2008) star Justman carries the film quite ably.
Goyer goes into overdrive for the hectic finale as an entire team of holy men and occult experts face howling winds, bodies snapped in two and the demon child to perform an exorcism on Casey. However, the karmic futility that drives J-horror sits ill at odds with the Judeo-Christian theology, which means the twist ending makes little theological sense and comes across as just a horror movie gimmick.