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Dustin Putman

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The Uninvited  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Charles Guard and Thomas Guard.
Cast: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Maya Massar, Kevin McNulty, Jesse Moss, Dean Paul Gibson, Don S. Davis, Lex Burnham, Matthew Bristol, Danny Bristol, Heather Doerksen, Alfred E. Humphreys.
2009 – 87 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 28, 2009.
"The Uninvited" is a—wait for it—remake of an Asian horror picture, in this case 2004's Korean "A Tale of Two Sisters." Per the norm, Hollywood has reimagined the original story by stripping it of subtlety and evocation and spelling everything out for viewers who apparently cannot think for themselves or draw their own conclusions. While the changes made to the plot and key third-act revelations turn what was a tragic story of loss and guilt in the earlier film into a more standard-issue psycho-thriller, viewed solely on its own terms "The Uninvited" isn't half-bad. It certainly isn't the cinematic abortion that 2006's "Pulse" and 2008's "One Missed Call" were.

One year after the terrible fiery death of her terminally ill mother (Maya Massar), teenaged Anna (Emily Browning) is released from the mental hospital she has been residing in and reunites with novelist father Steven (David Strathairn) and wild-child sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) at their tranquil lakeside home. Much to Anna's chagrin, she is also faced with the prospect of her dad's girlfriend Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), once their live-in nurse who has opted to stay put for altogether different reasons. As Anna attempts to make the best of an uncomfortable situation and move on with her life, she is met with horrific visions that intermittently haunt her waking hours. All of the pieces seem to be trying to tell her something, and much of them point to Rachael, whom Anna becomes convinced played a part in the fire that took the life of her mother.

"The Uninvited" was directed by first-time feature filmmaker brothers Charles and Thomas Guard, who show a solid sense of foreboding and things that go bump in the night. While nowhere near as gasp-inducing as "A Tale of Two Sisters" often was, the Guard Brothers concoct a number of jump-in-your-seat moments and at least two set-pieces—one involving a grotesquely broken back, and another dealing with the mentally and physically ill corpse of Anna's mother that harkens back to the character of Zelda in 1989's "Pet Sematary"—sure to have the viewer's hair standing on end.

In between the more blatant horror elements is a story of a family coming undone by memories of their past. Or, at least, that is what it tries to be when screenwriters Craig Rosenberg (2004's "After the Sunset"), Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard aren't resorting to a more commonplace cautionary tale about wicked future stepmothers from hell. Since much of what takes place in the movie is merely a ruse for the climactic twists to come, it is difficult to say much more. However, while a few of the reveals logically hold to scrutiny, others do not, including some of the actions of Rachael. The final scene, though, moves far and away from the Korean source material and, surprisingly, generates an imaginatively cunning fresh perspective.

The cast is a respectable notch above the genre norm. Emily Browning (2004's "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events") possesses both an innocence and an old-soul quality that resonates for the protagonist of Anna, a young woman who has gone through a lot in her short lifetime without really getting the chance to just be a normal kid. Browning always appears as if she's thinking even when she isn't saying anything, a sure sign of a talented actor. As sister Alex, the fetching Arielle Kebbel (2006's "The Grudge 2") sweetly develops her relationship with Anna in a way that allows one to accept them as tight-knit siblings. David Strathairn (2008's "The Spiderwick Chronicles") is fine as father Steven, but his reactor role restricts him from really letting loose. At the other end of the spectrum, the gainfully employed Elizabeth Banks (2008's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") deliciously plays against-type as Rachael, an outwardly cheery person whose darker side starts boiling to the surface.

Visually polished and photographed with a firm, comprehensible hand that belies cinematographer Dan Landin's résumé of primarily music videos, "The Uninvited" is a largely well-crafted mystery. The film does not always make alterations for the better—"A Tale of Two Sisters" left more to ponder and chew on—but it does form a cohesive narrative that seems as if actual care was paid to designing it. Thus, despite traveling down avenues oft visited, the core of the story still works and resonates. "The Uninvited" is no groundbreaker in the annals of horror cinema, but, like Anna, it keeps its audience respectably creeped out and on edge.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman