The Uninvited ** ½
Directed By: The Guard Brothers.
Written By: Craig Rosenberg and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard based on the screenplay “A Tale of Two Sisters” by Ji-woon Kim.
Starring: Emily Browning (Anna), Arielle Kebbel (Alex), David Strathairn (Steven), Elizabeth Banks (Rachael), Maya Massar (Mom), Kevin McNulty (Sheriff Emery), Jesse Moss (Matt), Dean Paul Gibson (Dr. Silberling).
The Uninvited is an effective little horror film. Refreshingly, for a horror movie aimed mainly at teenage girls, it doesn’t dumb things down and it doesn’t concentrate on blood and guts and gore. Rather it gains its tension from some very good performances, and builds that tension slowly. But perhaps it builds that tension a little too slowly. You never really get involved in the story, despite the fine cast, and as a result the twist ending (or paradigm shift as M. Night Shyamalan pretentiously insists on calling these things) leaves you feeling somewhat unmoved.
The movie opens with Anna (Emily Browning) in a mental hospital, following a suicide attempt brought on by an explosion at her parent’s expansive lake house that killed her sick mother. Her doctor believes that she is ready to go home to finish her recovery. But sometimes, you can’t go home again. Her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is still there and supportive of her, but her dad (David Straithairn) is emotionally distant from her. To add to her problems, her dad has moved in his new girlfriend, Rachael (Elizabeth Banks) who was once her mother’s nurse. Rachael has redesigned the house, to make it more modern and cozy. She tries hard – too hard – to make Anna feel welcome at home, at least when her dad is around. When he’s not, Rachael shows some more disturbing traits.
That Rachael is a gold digger cannot really be denied. Why else would someone who looks like Elizabeth Banks be interested in someone who looks like David Straithairn if not to get her hands on all his money, and move into his huge lakeside house. Rachael pretty much admits as much when she takes Anna out to lunch one day, and talks about how much she resented all her former patients, all rich people who grew too old, too feeble to look after themselves.
But is there something more to her than that? It doesn’t take long for Anna and Alex to decide that Rachael is a murderer – not only of their mother, but also of another family a decade before. They fear that they will be next. It is a testament to Banks’ performance, the best in the film that she keeps you guessing. She isn’t overtly evil, and never really says anything to make you believe she’s a murderer, or even capable of it, but there’s something about that plastered on smile, and the coldness she can display that makes you believe it’s possible. Banks has down a lot of good work in the past few years. Who else could have played the sex kitten in The 40 Year Old Virgin, the horror movie heroine in Slither, the sweet girl next door type in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Laura Bush in W. and now a cold bitch in this movie and do it all convincingly. Give this woman a great role, and she’ll win an Oscar.
And the rest of the cast is fine too. Emily Browning has that kind of sweet, open face that immediately makes you feel sympathy for her. Arielle Kebbel has a more angular, more sexy face (she reminds me of Mandy Moore), and she plays the bitchy teenager to perfection. And there are few things less reassuring than being reassured by David Straithairn that everything is fine.
And the directors, The Guard Brothers, do a good job as well. Like a Hitchcock film, they try to make the audience uneasy, and question their conclusions throughout the film, before pulling the rug out from underneath them.
Having said all of that, the movie just isn’t quite good enough for me to really recommend it. It comes close to be sure, but it never quite gets under your skin, and make you squirm like a good horror movie really should. This is a remake of a Korean horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, which remains unseen by me, so maybe that’s a better version of this story. While The Uninvited does a lot of things right, and very few actually wrong, it’s a film I wanted to like more than I ultimately did.