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the uninvited

The Uninvited
Charles and Thomas Guard
Cast: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, David Strathaim, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Massar, Kevin McNulty

Joanne Ross

February 5, 2009


I'm a big fan of the Asian New Wave horror films coming out of Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. Hollywood must be a fan as well because the industry is determined to exhaust the entire new wave catalog for films to remake.  The latest effort is The Uninvited, the American take on Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon), one of the finest of the South Korean horror crop. The Uninvited does stay close in spirit and plot to the original. However, as reinterpreted by the Guard Brothers, it comes across as heavy-handed and is overly puffed up musically. To be fair, it is watchable and moves along at a good clip. It’s not the worst movie you’ll ever see. But ultimately it cannot withstand close comparison to the subtle intelligence, psychological complexity, and atmospheric disquiet of the brilliant A Tale of Two Sisters.

Some of the best of the new wave movies can seem cryptic to American audiences and too often, may require multiple viewings to uncover the richness of meaning. This is a disadvantage as audiences here rightly expect to be able to understand what's happening on screen when they purchase their tickets. And that puzzling quality would explain, at least in part, just why audiences may prefer The Uninvited over the more restrained and measured A Tale of Two Sisters.

Anna Rydell has just been discharged from the mental hospital where she’s been recovering from a breakdown brought on by the tragic death of her invalid mother. She returns home to her father Steven (David Strathairn), her sister Alex (Arielle Krebble) and her new step-mother, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Anna is plagued by dreams that suggest her mother’s death may not have been an accident. But Anna can only recall tiny fragments of her memory about what happened the night of the fire that killed her mother.  The truth taunts yet eludes her. The persistent dreams and creepy “signs” she encounters convince her that stepmother Rachel killed her mother.


The Uninvited is much like The Sixth Sense in that both films employ the literary convention of the “unreliable narrator” to create an organically shocking plot twist or reversal in audience expectation.  The objective truth (what is really happening) is radically different from the subjective truth (coming from the point of view of the protagonist – Anna, in this case – and which is what the audience sees on the screen). For that device to work successfully, the transition from what the audience perceives as true to the revelation of the actual truth must be seamless. All points must be consistent with and capable of two interpretations, all questions must be answered. Director M. Night Shyamalan employed the technique masterfully in The Sixth Sense, and he gave the audience a genuinely shocking – and moving -- twist. By contrast, the Guard brothers left me scratching my head in some places and worse, completely disinterested in the outcome.

The acting choices contributed to the weakness in the function of the plot twist. I’m speaking specifically about Elizabeth Banks who strikes the entirely wrong note in her portrayal of the alleged “wicked” stepmother. Her performance is exaggerated and can only be read one way, and therefore is inconsistent with the film’s eventual revelations.

Horror / mystery fans will likely find The Uninvited at least entertaining if not memorable or exceptional. The Guard brothers had great material to work with. Unfortunately they failed to deliver any of qualities in their version that made the original film A Tale of Two Sisters such a masterpiece of the genre.*-JR


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