4 December 2009

Movie Review: The Uninvited


C+

The Uninvited
2009, 87mins, PG-13
Director (s): The Brothers Guard
Writer (s): Doug Miro, Craig Rosenberg, Carlo Bernard
Cast includes: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbell, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Maya Massar
Release Date: 30th January 2009

For the longest portion of its neat 87 minutes “The Uninvited” is an enjoyable film. The problem is that when the finishing act comes around it represents a mystifyingly frustrating misstep, whoever thought the twist added onto this one was a good idea has to have their artistic credibility called into question. I realize the film is a remake of the Asian property “A Tale of Two Sisters” yet either that movie suffers the same implausible denouement or deploys it in a more opportunistic and effective manner. Either way this Americanized retooling plays solidly for about an hour then blows much of its respectability due to an unsatisfying finish. As a result it goes from being certifiably good to being little better than average.

“The Uninvited” has been pitched to audiences as a ghost story, though in truth the supernatural only play a small part. It rattles along much more in the vein of a thriller or teenage conspiracy flick and whilst the summation of proceedings reverts back to spirits and ghouls the majority of the movie flows more realistically. Anna (Emily Browning) has just been released from the mental institution in which she has resided since the death of her mother, killed in a suspicious inferno that consumed part of her house in peculiar circumstances. Her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) and Father (David Strathairn) are initially pleased to see her, though for Anna at least they carry some bad news. Her Mother’s nurse and fathers new girlfriend Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) has moved in. Rachel is initially welcoming but her mood starts to change when Anna begins to suspect she may be culpable for her Mother’s death, haunting visions and ghostly appearances of past victims leading to the assertion. Her Father isn’t impressed with what he sees as insane rambling yet Alex is easier swayed, and together the two sisters attempt to expose the newest addition to the family.

For a horror movie rated PG-13 “The Uninvited” is surprisingly chilling and exciting in places. It’s also worth acknowledging that whilst I haven’t seen the original it strikes me as superior to most remakes. So for directorial duo Thomas and Charles Guard it’s far from a bad way to start their Hollywood careers and between them I do see potential. “The Uninvited” is a polished and moody movie with several genuinely suspenseful moments; from a visual perspective at least it’s a definite triumph. The Brothers Guard (as they prefer to be credited) certainly shows a command of cinematography and a flourish for atmospheric shot construction; aesthetically it’s consistently interesting and aids the story rather than overwhelms it. The musical score from Christopher Young is another thing that really stands out in aiding “The Uninvited” in its quest for thrills. Young has complied musical accompaniment that evokes an eerie sense of dread and uncertainty, it’s not a groundbreaking orchestral effort, though it’s solid and recognition worthy in the confines of such a modest motion picture.

The performances are decidedly mixed though the characterization is involving, certainly more defined and unique than the horror genre tends to offer. Browning and Kebbel never quite convince as the vengeful sisters, though in fairness specific facets of their acting do work. Browning in particular is commended for trying to bring what seems like an ethereal edge to her character and isn’t unsympathetic even if at times she relies overly on a puppy dog sense of disbelief. Kebbel just seems wooden for large sections of the movie though she rarely appears in anything more than a swimsuit which goes someway to compensating for her lack of energy or enthusiasm. Strathairn is overqualified for such an undemanding part though he carries it off well and Elizabeth Banks is excellent as the menacingly sweet Rachel. Banks has in the last few years shoehorned her way into the A list comedy scene, though “The Uninvited” shows that she has aspirations beyond that as an actress. I would probably go as far to say that along with the photography Banks is the movies greatest asset, charming and intimidating in equal measure.

The finish is where it all goes pear shaped, up until that point “The Uninvited” registers as a quietly efficient and entertaining attempt at mainstream horror. However not only does the picture insist on offering an incredibly lazy and unsubtle explanation it’s also a finale that invites narrative criticisms and shapes plot holes. The Guard brothers attempt to defend these inconsistencies through a quick replay of a few key scenes with the final twist in mind, and whilst their selected examples may make sense there are plenty of other moments that don’t. If taken purely as an experience “The Uninvited” works far more often than it does not, but when viewing it in retrospect as a story or tight narrative things struggle to hold up. It’s a disappointing end to what is otherwise a reasonably diverting film; the writers really would have been better going for a conventional serial killer style conclusion than the absolute cluster-fuck that appears on the screen.

I want to give “The Uninvited” a hearty recommendation, but in the light of its troubled ending that’s hard to do. The film is much better than most PG-13 drivel and actually manages to be scary from time to time but that doesn’t solve the other grander artistic issues. The Guard brothers look like they might be decent filmmakers and on the basis of this I’m more than willing to give them another chance but “The Uninvited” certainly could use improvement in a few vital areas.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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