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Let’s get one thing straight: Director Poj Arnon’s 2011 supernatural thriller “The Unborn Child” (aka “2002 Unborn Children”) is more of a “scare film” that it is an actual horror movie. Don’t get me wrong — the idea of Thai teenagers having to undergo illegal abortions is horrifying, but don’t try to hide your agenda inside a genre flick. It reminds me of those American drug films from the 40’s and 50’s, those cheap, low-budget exploitation efforts that attempted to pass along a message whilst wallowing freely in unchecked debauchery. Chop roughly 40 minutes out of the picture and you’d have something you could show to high school students in health class, complete with a tidy little message about safe sex tacked on for good measure. Considering the slug-like pacing and the dozen or so moments where absolutely nothing is happening, viewers probably wouldn’t miss a single thing.
Before you skip down to leave a nasty little message about my negative feelings towards a seeming thoughtful movie that is, essentially, a cautionary tale for sexually active teenagers living in a country overwhelmed with illegal abortions, let me say this: I generally don’t like deep, meaningful messages with my horror cinema. When I sit down with a scary movie, I want to be frightened and/or chilled. What I don’t want is to be preached to, especially on a hot button issue that’s easy to exploit. “The Unborn Child” certainly makes its message clear — illegal abortions are nasty practices that endanger thousands of lives every day — but I can’t say that I found the movie to be entertaining. In his quest to spread the word to the masses, Poj Arnon forget to tell an interesting story. Sure, he loosely based his ghostly yarn on the discovery of thousands of aborted babies in a storage locker, but he failed to do anything remotely interesting with it.
The storyline concerns itself with a young married couple and their odd little daughter, a girl who has recently started talking to an invisible boy she calls “little one”. When the dad discovers tiny hand prints all over the picture frame in his office, he’s quick to blame his only child. She, however, immediately informs him that her newfound friend is the culprit. The parents don’t believe a single word of it, that is, until mysterious shenanigans begin to plague their lives. On-board for a handful of subplots are a teenage couple who are struggling to decide what to do with their unplanned pregnancy, a twenty-something who suddenly discovers she’s with child, and the cranky abortionist who dumps the product of her illegal procedure on a mortician who hides them inside a storage locker at a local temple. As space for these dead fetuses begin to run out, the spooky events grow more intense, culminating in a twisty little conclusion that most of you will see coming.
The problem with “The Unborn Child” lies in its execution. Instead of taking a tragic event and poorly transforming it into a watered-down supernatural thriller with very tiny balls, Poj Arnon and company should have approached the story from a more believable angle. The discovery itself is disturbing enough — why destroy its impact by wrapping the tale in a generic plot employed by every other Asian genre flick on the planet? This is a perfect example of missed opportunity, of taking a rock-solid concept and doing the wrong thing with it. The cast, meanwhile, does an adequate job with the material, though its pretty far from remarkable. You ultimately feel nothing for these characters, as sympathy for their respective plights is hard to muster.
Despite some incredibly effective imagery during the last twenty minutes and the inherent tragedy of the real-life story, “The Unborn Child” is a bust. It’s just too generic and predictable for its own good, a pair of elements that should never come into play when you’re telling a ghost story. And while I applaud director Poj Arnon and crew for their desire to educate Thai teenagers about the dangers of illegal abortion, I can’t help but feel that more could have been accomplished had the script been a little stronger. At the end of the day, “The Unborn Child” lacks the visceral and emotional impact required to deliver on the power of its premise. Just remember: Eliminating illegal abortion good, “The Unborn Child” bad. Please don’t confuse the two. Please.
Poj Arnon (director) / Poj Arnon (screenplay)
CAST: Arisara Tongborisuth