C. Robert Cargill April 30, 2009
It’s not every day that you get to discover a small treasure amid the stack of upcoming releases. Confusing The Uninvited with the almost simultaneously released The Unborn (which several friends set out to spoil for me, “for my own good” they said), I popped this in preparing for the suck. Instead, I immediately discovered that this was the released-then-completely-forgotten horror film The Uninvited that got its tail handed to it by the incredibly awesome (and surprising) Taken. And man, was I surprised. What could have easily been another cut and paste thriller instead impresses at every turn with an incredible cast, solid acting all around, genuine mood-induced scares and a great, well-told story that keeps you guessing up to the film’s final moments.
For all intents and purposes, The Uninvited is a gender-reversed version of Hamlet told as a horror story rather than a drama. A young girl (played remarkably American by the very English Emily Browning) returns from a mental hospital after attempting suicide while distraught over the death of her mother to find that her father (David Strathairn) has taken up with the nurse (Elizabeth Banks) who once tended her slowly dying matriarch. Bitter over the nurse having fallen into bed with her father (and doing so over and over again), she takes solace in the company of her older sister (and best friend, playing Horatio to her Hamlet). But when spooky things begin to happen around her, she is visited by the ghost of her mother who intimates that she was murdered and usurped by her father’s new lover (planning a — pardon the expression — o’er hasty marriage). Now our young Hamlet must sort out the ins and outs of the murder without being sent back to the funny farm.
While we have been inundated with a number of horror films in which the mentally unstable are forced to confront the supernatural with events no one else believes until it is too late, The Uninvited takes a fresh turn by instead focusing upon the beautiful story of two sisters trying to wrestle with the events unfolding around them. Based upon the Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters, this film took the concept and story, but tried to avoid the trappings of most Asian horror remakes and set out to make something more Western (i.e., less vague). Korean films aren’t known for their directness, but they are occasionally known for their incest storylines (what many claim to be a metaphor for South Korea’s love/hate relationship with their former countrymen to the north), and so this film veered away from both of those elements — earning them ire from fans of the original. But I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable puzzle film put together with intelligence and serious care. Kicking back to rewatch it a day later, I picked up on a number of very subtle, very smart cues that sustained the film’s logic despite the wild plot turns.
That said, the film has a few moments that definitely don’t do it justice, offering up patches of seriously terrible dialogue once every half hour or so, only to once again find its footing. But when a film opens up with the eight most beautiful words in the English language (that every girl longs to hear), “I love you … and I have a condom,” you’re bound to turn some audience members against you right out of the gate. The film also uses a number of cliches as red herrings, a double-edged sword that not only sends the audience down the wrong path, but convinces many that the film might actually be on the wrong path. It’s something you have to stick through to the end, because when it pays off, it really pays off. Not the very best story of its type that I’ve seen, to be sure, but a very enjoyable one, and one very much worth renting and seeing now that it is out on DVD.
The special features here, however, are thin and rather unremarkable. There’s an alternate ending that I’m glad to see gone, deleted scenes that were taken out for mostly good reasons, and a 20-minute making-of which contains the usual self-congratulatory back slapping, but really will show you what lengths they went through to make the movie — and just how thick Browning’s English accent really is, further cementing the strength of her performance.
The Uninvited is available now from Dreamworks Home Entertainment.
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