Last year’s PROM NIGHT and TWILIGHT come to mind when I think of THE UNINVITED, but not for the reason you’re assuredly thinking of. Those films were thought of, and hyped, as a gateway into horror for younger audiences; something to fondly look back on years later and say, “I remember (insert film title here) started it all for me.” Neither of them lived up to the challenge –PROM NIGHT because it’s shoddily done and TWILIGHT because fans are more apt to read a trashy romance novel afterwards than watch EVIL DEAD 2 – and most horror fans justifiably frowned upon them, but that’s where THE UNINVITED has the edge. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, especially for those who have seen its Korean inspiration, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, but it’s perfectly acceptable as a major-studio horror film for the 13 – 17 crowd and is unlikely to insult or ruffle the feathers of any genre fan that wants to give it a go.
Being mere feet from her mother’s cottage when it unexpectedly erupted into flames, no one can blame Anna (Emily Browning) for having a nervous breakdown. Seemingly recovered and no longer trying to take her own life, her father, Steven (David Strathairn), decides it’s time to take her home and be a family again. But there’s a new woman in dad’s life; Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), the nurse who took care of Anna’s sickly mother before her untimely death, has moved in and started to work her way into Steven’s wallet. Anna’s a bit put off by Rachael’s fake friendliness and insistence to be her new mother – evident by the way she tells Matt, Anna’s suitor, to get lost since he seems to know a little more than he should about the fire – and thinks she’s trying to hide something. Egged on by her sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), the two begin to look into Rachael’s past and see if she’s really who she says is and whether or not she’s the one responsible for their mother’s death.
What THE UNINVITED lacks in layered symbolism and depth, it makes up for with its creepy atmosphere. The visual presentation is a throwback to the ghost movies of yesteryear, using a good mixture of interior shadowing and daylight scenes that are just a little too bright, with a mystery-laden, but whimsical, score from Christopher Young (SPIDER-MAN 3). A scene where Anna has a vision of someone hobbling across the room with a broken back stands out as one of the more effective in the film, not only because of its bizarre imagery, but because it’s seen from the perspective of a half-asleep character, and only out of the corner of her eye at first. It’s a perfect example of how good technique can make you squirm in your seat just as much as gore.
Although all the leading ladies give good performances, it’s Kebbel and Banks who stand out as the better of the three. Banks plays against type as the step-mother with possible malicious intentions, dancing the fine line between smiles and dead seriousness. Even thought the character is one that’s familiar, it’s nice to see Banks chew the scenery a bit and look like she’s having a good time all the while. Kebbel plays Alex with just enough sarcastic bitchiness to perfectly fit her role of daddy’s little girl who’s more often drunk than sober and compliments Anna’s sheepish demeanor perfectly.
The thing that really bugged me was the twist, which can be figured out within the first 20 minutes. Before seeing THE UNINVITED, I made the decision not to re-watch ATOTS, partly because I didn’t want to spend the whole film pointing out the differences between the two versions, but mostly because I couldn’t remember the ending and I assumed this incarnation would play out the same way. I wanted to make an attempt to piece the clues together for myself without any outside influence, but the film is dumbed down so much, no detective work was needed. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that you’ve seen something similar in a certain sleeper hit from the late 90s, and it actually feels like a revelation there.
THE UNINVITED isn’t as complex or involving as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, but it’s a decent time waster that will be more appreciated on cable during a lazy Sunday afternoon than in the theatre. As far as Asian horror remakes go, it’s not as good as THE RING, but its atmosphere, performances and sense of humor – featuring a classy bit with a vibrator named Mister Chubby – will stop you from giving yourself an open-palm slap to the forehead like SHUTTER and ONE MISSED CALL did.