Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Uninvited

In this remake of A Tale of Two Sisters (a recent classic from South Korea that I re-watched earlier this month), a teenage girl returns home from a stay at a mental hospital to find her father married to her deceased mother's former nurse. The girl and her older sister begin to suspect that their stepmother may be hiding sinister secrets.

The thing about A Tale of Two Sisters is that it's effect is almost entirely due to the powerful, impressionist, unnerving mood that it creates. On a surface level, it's story is not inherently special. In fact, it has many elements that often annoy me in horror films, most obviously a major plot twist that negates and/or makes arbitrary earlier sequences in the movie. In a lot of films that's a dealbreaker for me, but its spooky ambiance and the confusing, almost surreal way the story unfolds turn the film into something unique.

So, you'd think a needless American remake which skimps on the atmosphere, simplifies the storytelling (a less kind individual might say "dumbs down") to make the plot more clear, and plays up the more traditional psychological thriller elements, would be nothing short of completely dire. Yet, I'm here to tell you today that, while no classic, The Uninvited is good fun as far as mainstream, American, teen-friendly, studio horror pictures go.

For one, the cast is excellent. Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn, as the stepmother and father, are slumming it a bit, but are pros and elevate their stock characters. And Emily Browning (the girl from Lemony Snicket) manages to take her potentially obnoxious, moody teenage character and turn her into a likable lead.

More importantly, perhaps understanding that they could never match the eerie power of the original, directors Charles and Thomas Guard drop all the shadowy gloom and doom, as well as the supernatural elements, and craft it into a sporty, tidy little thriller. Going in, obviously I knew the big twist (which, unlike in the original, is saved for the finale and is more clearly explained), so it was fun to watch for the little hints dropped throughout, and for the clever ways scenes, shots, and lines of dialogue have to be played in order to make sense on multiple levels. Whereas the original film leads the viewer into deliberately unsteady, confusing territory, the plot of The Uninvited comes together like clockwork during the final few minutes, crossing every "t" and dotting every "i," until the final moment, which includes a detail so arbitrary I couldn't help but smile.

Grade: B-

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