Uninvited, The (2009)

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 01/30/09 16:00:00

"A Tale of Two Brothers Who Screwed Up Two Sisters"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Inspired by his brilliant work on the still unreleased action spectacular (The Good, The Bad and the Weird), I caught up with Ji-Woon Kimís previously lauded horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, reportedly the highest grossing film in Koreaís history. Having already my fill of the atypical Asian horror line of wet, pale, dead children and burping ghosts, I was pleasantly surprised to see how Kim utilized many of those familiar elements into a twisty, creepy tale of sisterhood and burgeoning adolescence. It was a film about something while still keeping us on our toes and tearing down our expectations. That never bodes well for an American remake. Gore Verbinskiís The Ring being the lone exception. So along comes the Two Sisters redux, boasting itself with producers of The Ring as well as Disturbia. For much of the way, I teetered with acceptance as the filmmakers appeared content to make this more along the lines of the latter. But once the pieces became clear that directors Charles & Thomas Guard were content on being M. Night Shyamalan instead of Ji-Woon Kim, itís enough to make any purist feeling tainted.

Anna Rydell (Emily Browning) has spent the last ten months in a psych ward, brought on after an attempted suicide over the grief of her motherís death. She seems fine now, despite a recurring dream about that night, and is happy when author dad, Steven (David Strathairn), picks her up to bring home to their place on the lake. There she is greeted by dadís girlfriend, Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), who was once the live-in nurse for her gravely sick mother. Also welcoming her home is her sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), whose wardrobe consists mainly of a bikini top. Sheís in the midst of her drunken party rebellious streak, but maintains the priority of being a big sister to the troubled Anna.

Rachael does her smiley best to front herself as the happy homemaker to the sisters while boffing their fatherís brains out every night. But just how fake is that smile? Annaís boy crush, Matt (Jesse Moss) reveals to her that he saw what happened the night her mom died. A little investigating by the sisters uncovers that the nursing agency has no record of anyone with the name on Rachaelís driving license. And now the ghosts of both her mother and a trio of schoolchildren seem to haunt her every glance with warnings of Anna being next. Will the truth set them free or are they destined to suffer the same fate?

Itís clear that the Guard Brothers and screenwriters Criag Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (whose credits include the weak WWII actioner, The Great Raid and the Brett Ratner craptacular, After the Sunset) have chosen to structure this update as an old school Hitchcockian mystery. Evil impending stepmom. Clueless dad. Suspicious children. And for a while it looks like they might get away with it, pandering to unfamiliar audiences who thought Disturbia was the height of originality. Original or not though, the Brothers and their writers make some key tactical errors along the way that even those unaware of the filmís secrets are likely to pick up on unless theyíre dead.

Misstepping in the way almost all of their big scare scenes are filmed and edited (how they miss creating a subtle intensity involving the placing of a necklace is major bush league), those responsible for the plotting make their biggest blunder in their treatment of Alex. Propping her up this go-round as the elder sister instead of the younger introduces an entirely new dynamic that does Annaís story no favors. It reduces Anna as the recurring victim rather than the protector which played a vital role in the original filmís revelations. As the younger sibling in Kimís version, Alex was also a withdrawn entity, the shy baby of the family who followed Anna at every turn. Now sheís a smart-ass motormouth which draws more attention to her antics and her presence even if no one on screen seems to care. Sheís the 95-pound gorilla in the room; a distraction that we pray the film deals with as early as Ji-Woon Kim did so we can get into the real meat of the story. But it doesnít.

Instead just about every big twist from Kimís film is reserved for the final ten minutes of The Uninvited and its quite frustrating. A Tale of Two Sisters set us up for an hour before dropping its first big bombshell, and then used that reveal to take us on an inward journey about whatís currently happening and what already occurred. Connecting the original trio of womenís menstrual cycle may have presented a snarky commentary on the feminine state of mind during that period, but also constituted the growing confusion of adolescence and the uneasy transition into the responsibility of adulthood. With the updating of The Uninvitedís gals into blossoming sexual creatures, we get a brief exchange about luscious lips, guys wanting a pretty mouth and how good a pearl necklace would look on Anna before that dissertation is dropped. Probably for the better. What isnít for the better is the rush job on the final act where all the secrets come to fruition and too many things take place off screen (or imagined) for us to see the finale as anything but a cheap gimmick weíve seen a thousand times before Ė just in the last decade.

A Tale of Two Sisters may not have been a masterpiece by any stretch, and is the kind of film you appreciate more once you have all the pieces than the disorientation of watching it. But that disorientation fed into a story that was ultimately about confronting guilt. By the end of Kimís film we understood what was real, what was not and who was guilty. By Uninvitedís end, its never clear if weíre meant to believe that everything we saw was exaggerated or just the ramblings of bad filmmakers. The fetching Emily Browning acquits herself better than your average fresh-faced horror heroine and thatís nice to see considering her solid work in 2004ís Lemony Snicket adaptation. Is it a coincidence that her doctor in the film is named Silberling, after that filmís director perhaps, or just an unhappy accident reminding us that this film is just another series of unfortunate events?

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