The Uninvited (2009)

It’s generally a safe bet that the American remake of any Asian horror film will disappoint fans of the original. Either too much has been excised or diluted for the sake of western sensibilities or, even worse, the remake is identical to the original except it features more white people speaking English. I had pretty much figured that statement was tautological enough that we’d soon see the tide of Asian horror remakes recede. But before it goes it seems there are some stragglers that need to be panned before we’ll be rid of this crap.

The Uninvited, while not a terrible scary movie on its own merits, is just a such a remake. Modeled very, very loosely on the excellent Korean film, A Tale of Two Sisters, this hastily prepared startler is guilty of paring down its source material to an almost unrecognizable form. Sisters was fairly complicated with a lot of intellectual cul-de-sacs and unexplained, disturbing imagery. The biggest question about The Uninvited, on the other hand, is what in hell the title has to do with the plot.

The story: 18-year-old Anna is a patient at a psychiatric hospital due to a suicide attempt following her terminally ill mother’s accidental death. She’s been having disturbing dreams regarding what happened that fateful night, but she’s unable to remember it in detail. Her psychiatrist announces that she has made enough progress to return home, where she’ll hopefully be able to achieve the goals of her therapy. But what should be a joyous reunion with her father and sister immediately sours at the mention of Rachel, dad’s much younger new girlfriend, who happened to have been mom’s former nurse.

Anna’s dreams escalate and begin to manifest physically in the form of creepy dead children and her own dead mother, all pointing toward Rachel’s involvement in her mother’s death. She enlists her sister, Alex, and together the two get their Nancy Drew on to expose Rachel and put their mother’s soul at peace.

"Who the fuck is Nancy Drew?"

Biggest letdown: Within the first five minutes, even before it’s suggested explicitly, you assume Rachel was responsible for mom’s death. Then five minutes later, when you know you’re supposed to think that, you start hunting for the big twist. Will it turn out that dad was in on it? Alex? Maybe Rachel’s only secret is that she’s banging the delivery boy. Maybe mom faked her death and started a budget special effects company so she could mess with the hussy who moved in on her man. There are only a finite number of options and even if you haven’t seen the original you’re bound to at least consider something close to what it ultimately turns out to be.

It pains me to say it but, despite my huge crush, a lot of the blame for the guessing game the movie turns into is the fault of Elizabeth Banks. To be fair though, that’s in large part due to lousy direction from the Guard brothers, whoever they are. At their instruction she plays Rachel as the manipulative ice queen almost instantly and elevates to vaguely sinister shortly thereafter. A bolder choice, and one that might allow the audience to get lost in the surface story of a struggling woman with something to hide, would have been an unshakable focus on winning over the sisters and making a home for herself. Regardless of whether she’s benevolent or malevolent, those are her character’s goals. How Rachel would think she could accomplish those things by turning every line into a challenge, insult or threat, is beyond me. Banks is a gifted comedic actor who hasn’t really hit her stride dramatically. Hopefully soon she’ll get a juicy straight role to explore without the handicap of directors who don’t know how to set up an audience properly.

Eeeevil pearls.

Why you should watch: I like anything with David Straitharn and he unsurprisingly plays his limited role to perfection. Whether he’s in on the crime or not is always up in the air, but he avoids giving obvious clues one way or the other so we can remain surprised at whatever the outcome is.

Despite the PG-13 rating the scares are plentiful, though they’re entirely built on the J-horror model of grimy apparitions jerking into frame to the sound of bones cracking and odd guttural noises. If you’re not yet tired of the stuff that gave The Ring its ring, you’ll find lots here to freak out about.

"You girls aren't plotting out there are you? I'm standing right here, you know."

Memorable Moment: As I mentioned I’m not on board with the choice to turn Banks into the wicked stepmother from the get-go, but one moment I did enjoy was when Anna comes in to talk to her before a big dinner party. Banks’s character responds at first with motherly compassion, only to have Anna confront her with a threat to reveal damaging information, resulting in a tense standoff that I found very effective. It’s a tight little scene that stands apart from the rest of the movie in terms of dramatic impact.

Choice quote: “First she was helping with the accident inquiry, and then she was helping with the funeral. Now she’s helping him cope. Three times a night.”

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2 Responses to “The Uninvited (2009)”

  1. […] The Uninvited – Sweetie, can’t you at least try to get along with your new stepmother? […]

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