A few weeks ago I reviewed a movie called Killing Ariel which was about a succubus. I said then that movies about the succubus were rare in modern horror cinema. Well, this week we meet an entity even more rare in the annals of Western civilized horror-the dybbuk. Writer-director David S. Goyer (The Invisible) digs up a demon from Jewish folklore to support a film that would've been a third rate Exorcist rip off back in the 70s like "The MANITOU". Of course, films about MANITOUS are also quite rare.
Odette Yustman from Cloverfield stars as Casey, a young underwear model tormented by strange visions of a mean little boy in pale white makeup who keeps saying something about "Gumby" needing to be born. Turns out this is the spirit of her unborn and dead twin brother, strangled to death by her umbilical cord while still in the womb. Or so says Casey's father played by '80s heavy James Remar ( 48 Hours) which is enough to make you suspect he's lying and behind some elaborate plot to drive his daughter insane for her inheritance. But he turns out to be a good guy, oddly, leaving no reason for casting Remar in the first place.
It also turns out that Casey's dead mother (Carla Gugino) and he never named the kid but did give him a weird nickname-"Jumby". Aha! Pretty soon Casey is seeing "Jumby" everywhere, looking like he's still holding that grudge from years ago. But she also sees a rogue's gallery of horror archetypes like insects, elderly contortionists, and dogs with upside down heads who pop up here like refugees from their own respective horror films. At her wits end, Casey seeks help from a Jewish "Spiritual Advisor" Sendak (Gary Oldman) and decides to undergo an exorcism to rid herself of this "jumby on her back".
This movie was silly, but in a way that warms the heart of a hardened horror fan. Goyer just tries so hard to entertain that you can't help but getting caught up in the absurdity of it all. I am sure it was his full intention to make a scary movie but because he doesn't know where to stop, he accidentally endsup in a place where a director like Paul Verhoeven would've started: making a subversive horror film that takes the mickey out of the J-horror genre.
The first 40 minutes of this movie are like one long joke. I know it has become fashionable to make these PG-13 horror pics go from scare to scare about every 7-10 minutes. But Goyer says to hell with fashion- he can do better. He can toss in a senseless scare every 5-7 minutes. Now, after one or two you start to get the giggles but after the third or fourth false scare in 20 minutes you begin to Laugh Out Loud. After an hour, you no longer care that the movie is not even vaguely scary. It's like something that the team of Zucker-Abrahms-Zucker would've made in the days of Airplane and Top Secret only without realizing it.
I'm actually making this film sound a lot better than it is and that's because Goyer did in fact believe he was making an authentic horror picture. Well, what happens when you spend the first 40 minutes just piling on the scares? You end up with no characterization and little plotting. No problem if you don't care about such things, but Goyer is a screenwriter by trade and often a good one. His work on Batman Begins was fantastic. But here he---stops---the----movie---- dead in the middle to start telling the story he danced around in the first half. This was often a gimmick used by Hong Kong filmmakers working on Jackie Chan vehicles. But Chan had no plot to really worry about and a quick exposition scene in the second half could set up an hour's worth of stunts.
Here, Goyer wants to get into some long talk about Nazi experiments, Josef Mengele, and the aforementioned dybbuk and instead of dramatic writing we get the kind of info-dumping made popular by novelist Dan Brown (who must love cutting and pasting from Wikipedia). Luckily we have the great Gary Oldman doing a lot of the heavy lifting and this just barely saved the movie from the stop and eject buttons I was about to hit. Universal Home Entertainment must've decided to take the over $75 million that this fairly low budget film grossed at the box office and just give their own executives some bonuses since this disc is very bargain basement. You can watch the silliness dubbed or subtitled in all the usual languages-French, English and Spanish. The film is presented in Anamorphic widescreen and you get some deleted scenes. All thankfully so.
What the DVD really offers is the choice of watching the Original Theatrical Release or the Unrated version. However, at a difference of 1 minute in running time this just ends up being a difference of a few seconds of violence or suggested nudity nothing more. There are no new scenes or any particularly unrated moments which create added value. What you get is a single disc with two nearly identical movies on it. Save yourself the trouble and just watch the unrated one. Why miss out on the one minute of extra footage?
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