DreamWorks // 2009 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 1st, 2009
Can you believe what you see?
An American remake of a Korean horror film that was released in theatres during the month of January? The Uninvited sports all the warning signs of being a complete dud, but does the film manage to defy expectations?
Anna (Emily Browning, Ned Kelly) is attempting to put her life back together after a series of particularly traumatic events. Some ten months ago, her terminally ill mother was killed in a fire. In the wake of the event, Anna attempted to take her own life by slitting her wrists. Anna survived, but she was placed in a mental hospital and given intense psychiatric care. The doctors are finally convinced that Anna has completely worked through her mental issues caused by the tragedy, and they decide to let her go back home. Anna is very happy to be able to see her father (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) and her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel, The Grudge 2) again, but she isn't so pleased to hear about her father's girlfriend.
The woman's name is Rachel (Elizabeth Banks, Zack and Miri Make a Porno). Not only is Rachel much younger and prettier than Anna's mother was; she also just happened to be the in-home nurse that took care of Anna's mom. Anna and Alex are both repulsed by Rachel, but they do their best to put up with her for the sake of their father. However, they become particularly suspicious when clues start turning up suggesting that Rachel may actually have a dark and sinister secret. Can Anna and Alex find enough clues to convince the authorities that Rachel is up to no good before it's too late?
We've had more than enough dreary, unimaginative American remakes of Asian horror films in recent years. For every reasonably engaging one (The Ring, Dark Water), there's a whole pile of tedious duds. I didn't really expect much from The Uninvited, but I had hopes that actor David Strathairn would bring some class to the proceedings. Surprisingly, the film actually has quite a few considerable merits, most of which actually have nothing to do with the considerable acting talents of Mr. Strathairn. This is a tense, involving little horror/thriller that never cheats and doesn't insult the intelligence of the viewer.
The film was directed by Charles and Thomas Guard (continuing the fashionable trend of brother directing teams and simply calling themselves "The Guard Brothers" in the credits), a pair from Britain who have previously directed various short films. Their first feature shows a lot of promise, as they manage to turn in a fairly routine genre thriller and improve it considerably simply by making the standard horror clichés a side item rather than the main course. The brothers aren't quite as interested in the "boo!" moments as they are in the characters, which is a large part of why the film works as well as it does.
This film marks the first cinematic appearance of Emily Brown since she turned up as Violet in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events in 2005. According to IMDb, she was taking a three-year break to complete her education. Here's hoping she'll stick around from here on out, because she's a very talented actress who has a lot more to offer than most of Hollywood's young pretty faces (who often seem to be using their good looks to compensate for their lack of skill). Her turn as Anna is nuanced and sympathetic, and she creates a real character that we can care about rather than becoming just another scream queen. We are not supposed to care about her because she might be in danger, but because she is attempting to pull her life back together and the deadly circumstances she has been placed in are only working towards making her mental agonies worse.
Brown is nicely matched by Elizabeth Banks as the story's antagonist. Banks is a reasonably gifted actress who has far too often simply been cast as "the girl" in many recent films. When given a role of substance (such as her turn as Laura Bush in W.), Banks can do good things, and this part seems to have been tailor-made for her. Banks rides the line between innocent cheer and menacing insanity with spooky precision, and has a few intense little scenes in which she thoroughly convinces us of her creepiness (if not her guilt as a murderous villain). The performance is immediately compelling on a first viewing and perhaps even more compelling in retrospect when one filters it through the knowledge provided at the film's conclusion. I'm not sure the actress has even been better than she is here.
I'm also pleased to report that The Uninvited receives a really terrific transfer that should make HD-enabled viewers very happy. The level of detail here is simply superb. Look at the the way every minor aspect of Strathairn's weathered face is accentuated during close-ups, and consider the impressive level of background detail during those lovely shots that pull back to admire the lakeside house that serves as the primary setting for the film. There are quite a few scenes here that are very dark visually, and I was particularly wowed by how sharp these look. Blacks are deep and rich, while film handles shadows and varying darker shades masterfully. No murkiness or incomprehensibility here. The sound is excellent as well, with Christopher Young's expert score (is there any other composer even half as good at scoring this sort of thing?) providing lyrical goosebumps via your speaker system. Sound is well-distributed throughout. The mix is aggressive and dynamic when it needs to be, but overall is a subtle and gentle track.
A small selection of bonus features is included on the disc. First up is the standard-issue EPK-style featurette, unimaginatively titled "Unlocking the Uninvited" (20 minutes). Interviews with the cast and crew, what a great experience making the film, everyone's a winner, blah blah blah. You also get four deleted scenes and a not-too-different alternate ending. That's it. Pretty thin supply of supplements, if you ask me.
Perhaps the weakest parts of this horror film are the creepy hallucinations that Anna has during the first hour. Every ten minutes or so, some creepy children will appear in various places (under the bed, in a graveyard, etc.) and whisper sinister things like, "You're next!" or, "You're going to die!" These sequences simply aren't as frightening as the less overtly horrific moments in the film (such as Banks' monologue about what gave her comfort as a nurse when she had to handle the unpleasant task of changing the diapers of old people), and they feel rather routine in contrast to the rest of the film.
Though this isn't ever going to be regarded as a classic, the basic fact that The Uninvited is a genuinely good PG-13 American horror film is a considerable achievement. The transfer is terrific, and the film itself is an excellent pick for those looking for a good scare that doesn't rely on nasty brutality or one-dimensional characters.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes