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David Goyer Freaks Out Beaks with THE UNBORN!

David Goyer's Comic Con presentation for THE UNBORN was so impressive, I nearly frittered away all my time with the writer-director before getting a Batman question in. Nearly. We get to it at the end. Not that there's a whole lot to discuss (other than "Is $500 million possible?"). But let's concentrate on THE UNBORN, Goyer's ultra-freaky exorcism yarn starring the delectable Odette Yustman (Beth from CLOVERFIELD) as a young woman possessed by the none-too-happy spirit of her stillborn twin brother. To drive the resurgent little sucker out of her rockin' bod (can it be a coincidence that this is produced by Michael Bay?), a non-Catholic exorcist (Gary Oldman) is consulted. Okay, so the bare-bones plot description isn't a world beater. Trust me, you'd be dialing up your "meh" to a "Why'd you wait four films to make a proper horror film, Goyer!" if you saw this footage. Some of it might be familiar (there's an institutionalized old man doing the Regan spider walk in one scene), but the bulk of the imagery will surely haunt my ever-so-slightly feverish dreams this evening (love getting sick at Comic Con!). If I had to describe the tone, it'd be SESSION 9 crossed with THE EXORCIST III - with more masked dogs. While the footage was encouraging, Goyer's enthusiasm as we chatted in the green room following the panel was the closer. He's clearly proud of this film, and fully committed to making a horror film that stays with you long after the shock from the KNB gore gags has worn off. Then again, I'm a sucker for any movie that combines fused placentas, heterochromia, Kabbalah, potato bugs and Josef Mengele. It's been too long, really. No skipping to THE DARK KNIGHT answers! You owe Goyer this much.

Beaks: So this is going in a different direction for you. Or it's at least different from what you've been doing.

David Goyer: Or maybe it's back to the stuff that I was known for. I've never done a straight-out horror film. God knows, I'm a fan, but it wasn't like I said "Okay, I'm going to do a horror film." I just had this idea, and it was a horror idea. Then once I started working on it... I just don't think, in the last ten or twenty years, that there have been that many truly good horror films. I thought the original RING was good... I thought THE OTHERS was good... I liked [THE EXORCISM OF] EMILY ROSE... I liked MOTHMAN PROPHECIES... I liked SESSION 9... and that's about it.

Beaks: It sounds like you enjoy things with a slow mounting sense of dread.

Goyer: I do. Don't get me wrong, I liked the remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but it didn't scare me. It shocked me, but it didn't scare me. And I like stuff that creeps me out. SESSION 9 really creeped me out. And there's one scene in THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES where he gets the call from... I can't remember the character's name (and neither can Beaks)... but it creeped me out. And sometimes Lynch does stuff in his films...

Beaks: With sound.

Goyer: Yeah, with sound. And there's that moment in MULHOLLAND DR. where the guys go back by the dumpster. I find that stuff really disturbing. I find perversions in real life disturbing, so... I guess I was kind of going for that. I think torture porn... there's obviously a place for it, but it's maligned the genre. And it's very hard at studios to say, "I'm going to do a serious horror film" - even though THE RING was successful. So I thought, "Can I do something that's scary that also has credible acting in it?" Which is why we went for people like Jane Alexander and Gary Oldman.

Beaks: It must be gratifying to get those actors, especially since this is your first original screenplay in ten years.

Goyer: I was flattered. And, trust me, Gary didn't do it just because of my association with BATMAN BEGINS. He really liked the script. He thought it was smart and different. I think Gary's one of the top five or ten actors in the world. It also... I've done so many adaptations and things like that, and it just kind of reminded me to go back to my roots and do something original, do something that you find scary that comes from you. It's very rewarding to have somebody like Gary Oldman say, "Yeah, I want to do it."

Beaks: In writing the script, did you think in terms of what is essentially THE EXORCIST idiom, or did you try to get in there and explode those conventions?

Goyer: It started from this notion of having an unborn twin. I saw this news piece about people who grew up as only children and found out that, in utero, they had a twin that died, and for one reason or another, their parents never told them. There's a whole series of support groups for these people. So I thought, "Well, that's a really broad idea." And that led me to thinking, "What would that unborn twin had been like?" And in particular... sometimes what happens with unborn twins is that there's this instance where, with fraternal twins, the placentas become fused. They'll have one placenta. And the umbilical cord of one twin will get wrapped around the throat of the other and strangle it. But the mother, because of the situation, will be forced to carry both to term, so the living twin is still wrapped up with the dead twin for the rest of the pregnancy. And because of medical complications, they can't abort the one fetus. That was the start of the movie. That's just creepy and fucked up. I can't really think of a movie that deals with that. That was a great starting off point. This led me to do research that ultimately moved into "Well, we have to do an exorcism." But it's not a Catholic church exorcism; it's a Hebraic exorcism. There's a whole different kind of idiom in it. There's this thing called a "Hand in Miriam", and there's iconography that deals with mirrors. And there's this dog with a mask, which you might've seen in the presentation. Dogs with masks I find weird. I even love that thing in Philip Kaufman's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, where the dog has the human face on it. I just think that's weird and surreal.

Beaks: You mentioned incorporating Mengele's experiments with twins. How does that fit in?

Goyer: Again, it's one of these things where you just let your ideas flow. I'm researching twins, and there's this medical phenomenon called heterochromia where occasionally a person will have an iris that's mostly got brown pigment, but also a little of blue. Sometimes you see it in animals, and every once in a while in people. I thought, "That's an interesting image." So I was researching what causes that: sometimes it happens from a tumor, sometimes it happens from blunt force trauma, and sometimes it happens if you've got twins with fused placentas. This was just a coincidence. And what'll happen is some of the chromosomal material from the one twin will sort of get infused into the other. It's called "genetic mosaicism", and it was just one of those happy accidents. So I thought, "That's what'll kick it off. This girl's just doing her thing, and then one day, one of her eyes starts to turn blue." She starts seeing medical doctors, and first they think it might be cancer, and this and that. And then they start finding chromosomes that aren't hers, and that's when it becomes a mystery. Then I was researching Mengele's experiments with twins, and he was fascinated with turning brown eyes into blue. All these disparate elements just sort of came together, and I was shocked that, when I sifted through them all, they made a kind of unified mythology. There's a lot of stuff from Kabbalah in it, too.

Beaks: How has Michael Bay been as a producer?

Goyer: He's been pretty hands off, which is nice. I think that I'm a lot more experienced than most of the directors they work with. I'm also the first writer/director that they've worked with. They also didn't develop it; I brought it to them. I said, "Hey, do you want to make this movie," and a week later we were in pre-production. But he's been very supportive. It's been cool. The other thing I learned is... this gets really technical, but I did this film called THE INVISIBLE, which is very different from the kind of stuff I normally do. Nina Jacobson was the head of Disney at the time; she loved the movie, but she got fired while we were making the movie. And the new regime was like, "What the hell is this?" The thing with Michael is that he's got a guaranteed release, and guaranteed marketing, and whatever. It doesn't matter if the head of Universal gets fired; with Michael, I've got this 800 lb. gorilla who's going to protect it no matter what happens. That's awesome.

Beaks: So THE DARK KNIGHT is at, what, $400 million now?

Goyer: (Cracking a smile) Not yet. Maybe next weekend.

Beaks: Well, you guys were finally able to get to this point where you could make this huge, thematically ambitious comic book movie... the one that we've been building toward since BLADE sort of reinvigorated the genre.

Goyer: I think so. There were the SUPERMAN movies, and then I think BLADE was the next iteration.

Beaks: That or METEOR MAN.

Goyer: Yeah. Or BLANKMAN.

Beaks: But having helped nurture the comic book film, it must be kind of gratifying to be a part of the film that brings it to full maturation.

Goyer: It's been a crazy evolution. I remember having these meetings when we started BLADE in 1994, and it was just such a maligned [project]. Marvel didn't even give a shit about the character; I think they optioned the rights to New Line for $25,000. I think their fee on the first film was $125,000. They didn't even care. SPIDER-MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, X-MEN, HULK... that was it. What BLADE taught studios is that all these secondary, tertiary characters can become franchises in their own right. And then to, a decade later, be invited to do Batman - which to me is the grandaddy of them all - is amazing. We're all really proud of the movie, but we're also surprised that this movie is this successful because it's a really dark, unrelenting movie. The convention is - and I can't tell you how many times I've had studios tell me this - "Oh, it's a popcorn movie. It's got to be light and frothy." I really liked IRON MAN, don't get me wrong... but the assumption is that it's got to be SPIDER-MAN or IRON MAN. Well, THE DARK KNIGHT is brutal, and it's going to beat them all. By, like, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Beaks: The timing is perfect. Next year we're going to get the demystification with WATCHMEN.

Goyer: And then it's anybody's guess what happens next. I think WATCHMEN will be the end of the first chapter; it will be the ultimate postmodern superhero film.

Beaks: So where does Batman go from there?

Goyer: It's really up to Chris. He's taking a month-long vacation. On DARK KNIGHT, it was about coming up with a story that was better than BATMAN BEGINS. I think it's going to be sort of geometrically, proportionately harder a third time. We'll see. We talked a long time on THE DARK KNIGHT before he said, "I think we've got something." I don't know. We'll see.

In the meantime, you'll see THE UNBORN... at some point. There doesn't appear to be a release date yet. Hopefully, they'll finish up the f/x in the Comic Con teaser and release it online posthaste. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

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