The Uninvited (2009)

For the longest time, I thought that The Uninvited was going to be a straightforward film. Up until a certain point, it didn’t have any real twists, only reveals, and I thought that was refreshing. Then the ending came, we had one twist, and I was disappointed. It’s truth that this doesn’t ruin the entire film, and I still had a fun time overall, but I was hoping that there wasn’t going to be a twist at all.

We begin in a mental hospital, as many psychological thrillers do. Anna (Emily Browning) has spent the last ten months there after her mother died in a fire and she tried to kill herself. She has no memory of what happened the night that the fire started, although she has dreams about it. She’s released the day we begin watching, presumably because staying in a psych ward isn’t particularly enjoyable if Jack Nicholson isn’t roaming around it. She is picked up by her novelist father (David Strathairn), a man who brings her cookies and tells her that he has a new significant other in his life. What a father!

At home, it’s time ro get acquainted or reacquainted with the people who are going to be spending some time with her over the course of the film. First is her sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), who meets with Anna on the docks. The family lives on their own little island reminiscent of the house in The Birds. They have groceries delivered to them by boat by Anna’s friend, Matt (Jesse Moss). He tells Anna that he saw what really happened the night of the fire, but he’s interrupted by that “significant other” that I mentioned earlier, a woman named Rachel (Elizabeth Banks).

As it turns out, Rachel was actually the sisters’ nurse while her mother was still alive. She was a sick woman, having to live in the cabin by the lake and have a bell on her wrist if she needed anything. After her death, we’re to assume that Rachel decided to make a play at the widower. It worked, and now the pair are romantically engaged. “Three times a night,” claims Alex. Too much information, if you ask me, but at least the sisters are open enough to talk about those kinds of things with one another.

They don’t like this Rachel person. You’re not supposed to like daddy’s new girlfriend, Rachel tells the duo, but she wants things to be different between herself and the sisters. They decide that she’s obviously evil, and choose to find out just how so. Why do they think she’s going to ruin their lives? Well, Anna, fresh out of the mental ward, is having visions of dead people who are telling her so. Even her mother appears and points the finger at Rachel. That seems to be reason enough.

The Uninvited does atmosphere well. Maybe it does try a little too hard — ominous music plays when there is absolutely no reason for it to, for example — but it’s effective nonetheless. You’re kept off-balance for a lot of the film because the film wants you to be, and because many of the individual elements actually work. The cinematography brings you back to other horror films, but it also helps to set the mood. And, of course, the creepy ghost-things that can appear from anywhere at any time make you wonder what’s going to pop-out next.

That’s not to say that there are a lot of jump scenes. Thankfully, there aren’t. When they are present, I found them to work more often than not. But not including a ton of them is something that is consistent with a lot of the film. It doesn’t want to give you, the audience, the satisfaction of knowing what it’s going to attempt next. It tries to avoid many of the tropes of horror films — and remakes of Asian horror films in particular — and keep things fresh. For the most part, it succeeds, even if it did include that twist at the end that I wasn’t a fan of.

With that said, the twist does make you reevaluate large portions of the film. “Does the film cheat?” will be one of the questions you’ll ask yourself. I’m not sure if it did or not. But if I rewatch it, which I very well intend to at some point, I’ll have to keep a closer eye out for clues regarding this revelation. My perspective will be different on a second viewing, and that’s always a bonus for a film like this one, even if I think telling the teenage-filled angst-ridden story about two sisters wanting to discover the true identity of a woman they don’t like might have been a breath of fresh air.

A surprise in the film is that the acting is actually quite strong. Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel make believable sisters, with Browning doing most of the heavy work in the film. Elizabeth Banks is less endearing than in many of her previous performances, playing the character that can always appear at the least opportune times, but you’re unsure whether or not she heard what you’re plotting. And David Strathairn is relegated to a background role, which is too bad. I would have liked to see more from him.

The Uninvited is a psychological thriller film that’s actually somewhat scary and always entertaining. On the first viewing, its final (and really, only) twist was disappointing, but upon a second viewing, I could see how this actually improves the film as a whole. This is a film that does atmosphere well, and with the help of some strong performances and a desire to fake-out the audience at every turn, makes for an enjoyable watch. It’s not perfect, but compared to other Asian horror remakes, it’s quite good.

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