– Summary –
Director : The Guard Brothers
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Arielle Kebbel, Jesse Moss, Maya Massar, Kevin McNulty, Don S Davis, Heather Doerksen, Dean Paul Gibson.
Approx Running Time : 87 Minutes
Synopsis: Former psychiatric patient Anna returns to the family home to find her father shacked up with his dead wife’s former nurse.
What we think : Uninspired direction and incoherent plot twists unravel any sense of tension The Uninvited might have enjoyed. Browning is solid in a thankless role, Banks delivers a frightening Hand-That-Rocks-The-Cradle callback performance, and Arielle Kabbel offers enough sass to maintain some interest – but the inert narrative and trudgery to get to the point not only do the cast a disservice, but the viewer as well. Hardly a debacle, but certainly a misfire.
In the post Sixth Sense world of horror/thriller filmmaking, a lot of films of the genre have fallen over themselves trying to up the ante – the bigger the twist, the more shocked the audience, the greater the profit, right? The Uninvited has a twist, one which genre fans would probably see coming if they paid attention, that comes off as a little try-hard than successful, resulting in the entire film’s tension and inspiration unraveling fast. Which, considering that The Uninvited isn’t that great a film to begin with, means the viewer is in for a real let-down come closing credits. It’s a shame, but not surprising: the film’s core conceit is bland as butter, and the direction from the Guard Brothers nearly equally so. Wasting a great cast on this dreck is equally as shameful.
After being released from a psychiatric institution from a spell of recuperation following the death of her mother, Anna (Emily Browning) return to the family home to live with her father, Steven (David Strathairn), sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) and her father’s current lover, former nurse Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Rachel was the nurse who cared for their sickly mother (Maya Massar) in her last months of life; Anna’s mother was relocated from the family home to a refurbished boathouse (at the behest of Rachel herself) until an explosion one evening killed her. Anna, under the impression that Rachel is trying to insinuate herself into the family, begins to uncover some secrets of Rachel’s past, secrets which threaten to unravel her newfound freedom and that could potentially harm her sister and her father.
By rights, The Uninvited should have probably been called The Uninspiring. As far as thrillers go, this film seems content to merely exist, never once broaching greatness with any kind of passion; it’s a middling, passionless affair thanks largely to a bland script, TV-movie direction and an utter lack of suspense in what is a pedestrian story in the first place. The Uninvited invites scorn because it’s fairly obviously a rip-off of a multitude of other (largely better) films of the same genre – I felt the eerie sense of Secret Window, The Sixth Sense and even Nicole Kidman’s The Others tapping in the back of my brain while watching this movie. Not obviously so, sure, but elements of those films echo through this tepid, inverted screenplay. Written by Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, The Uninvited is based on the 2003 Korean film A Tale Of Two Sisters (which I admit, I haven’t seen) but no doubt lacks the original’s scares and class.
While the cast – Browning in particular – are all gallant in their performances, with nobody especially sticking out as exceptional or terrible, they’re brought low by a meandering, unfocussed narrative direction. The script can’t quite get into the grist of the story’s central thrill – okay, so Rachel’s the central antagonist of the piece, but the script never really develops her beyond being a cliche, a caricature of a real person. She’s the “replacement” woman in Anna and Alex’s father’s life, and while resentment might be present in the relationship between her and the girls, it’s not well enough established and explored to validate the concerns Anna has about her. Anna herself is fairly nondescript – her two main character traits are that she’s female, and has zero personality. That’s about it. Browning can’t deliver a character without something on the page to help her, and with a script this underdeveloped and cliched, that doesn’t leave much for her to do. Arielle Kebbel is also under-served by her character’s sulky, sarcastic state, lacking genuine emotion behind what is, essentially, a catalyst for Anna’s activities, while David Strathairn looks like he signed up for a different film altogether; I like Strathairn, but here his character could have been acted by a chuck of timber for all the impact he has.
Elizabeth Banks holds the film together as the on-edge, off-the-rails Rachel, who may-or-may-not be all she seems. Bank’s creepy smiles and knowing looks, coupled with the occasional moments of orchestral accuracy from composer Christopher Young, make her the most effective character in the film, although the Guard Brothers don’t seem to really know how to handle her as a character. They seem reluctant to make her either outright evil, or outright misunderstood (at least at the end), instead deciding to give her some weird, ambiguous middle-ground, where she flounders on screen, reducing both her impact and influence on the tone and structure of the movie. Banks normally does creepy really well, but for some reason it’s just ineffective. Keep an eye out, too, for former MacGuyver star, the late Don S Davis, in one of his last on-screen roles, as a blink-and-miss-it supermarket manager.
The direction on this film ranges from competent to just inane. The film delves into dreams, nightmares and visions of the past, which mix up well with the present reality as established in the film, yet the tropes of these kinds of psychological thrillers, where you’re never sure if you’re dreaming or not, become boring quite quickly. The Guard Brothers try and eke out some semblance of atmosphere with the Cuckoo’s Nest-style opener, go a little Hitchcock for the “mom bedridden in the boathouse” moments, and deliver soft-core PG horror and violence that’s as ineptly shot as it is yawn-inducing. Only one moment in the whole film actually made my skin crawl, and it was a moment where the camera switches to Anna’s POV as she’s lying in bed, something out of vision below the bed gradually coming closer and closer. Aside from that, the film’s scares are few and far between. A sidebar plot involving the ghost of some young girl and her brothers amounts to a giant red-herring, and seems to have been included to bring the creep-factor up to par. It doesn’t work. It’s like the Guard boys are cribbing from the “how to make a horror film” playbook and adding nothing of their own flair. It’s disappointing.
The Uninvited is yet another entry into the bland, not-up-to-scratch remakes for the PG13 crowd, with little blood and gore, a few decent jump-scares, and a dumber-that-a-box-of-hammers plot that offers nothing substantial for viewers. Characters are never fleshed out, the tone of the film pitches wildly from scene to scene, and the conclusion is as nonsensical (and eye-rollingly predictable) as you expect. From the bland script, to the equally bland (and plagiarist) direction, The Uninvited is one gate-crasher you’re happy to avoid watching. For genre fans only, and even then, you’ve been warned.