Dir: The Guard Brothers . US. 2009. 87 mins.
A pedestrian horror enlivened by some better-than-expected performances, The Uninvited doles out its scares and twists in a rather predictable narrative template. Respected actors Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn give it an added gravitas, but this umpteenth remake of an Asian horror film feels more rote than chilling .
Opening January 30 in the US - Super Bowl weekend - it's also facing down horror competition from the Underworld prequel and My Bloody Valentine. Elizabeth Banks' involvement will boost awareness, but the film may have to fight for visibility and may do much of its haunting in ancillary markets.
Traumatised by the death of her ailing mother in a house fire, Anna (Browning) returns from a psychiatric ward to reunite with her father Stephen (Strathairn) and older sister Alex (Kebbel), but is shocked to discover that her dad has fallen for her mother's pretty nurse, Rachel (Banks). Haunted by visions of her dead mother, Anna discovers that Rachel killed her and made it look like an accident, forcing Anna to try to convince her father of the truth before the treacherous nurse can strike again.
Based on writer-director Kim Jee-woon's A Tale Of Two Sisters, The Uninvited retains the central character of a young girl who is returning from a psychiatric centre after a harrowing experience. From there, directors Charles and Thomas Guard (The Guard Brothers), create a fairly mundane suspense film in which mildly scary dreams inform Anna that the seemingly benign Rachel is a murderer out to eliminate the rest of the family so she can have Stephen all to herself.
Disappointingly, since The Uninvited makes it obvious from the beginning that Anna's visions are accurate - and not the product of her mental breakdown - the scares that transpire are merely a long tease until she can piece together enough hard evidence to convince those around her of Rachel's guilt. Not until a third-act twist muddies the waters does the story develop any real intrigue, but the filmmakers cheat a little to achieve their last-minute surprise.
As builders of suspense, The Guard Brothers make The Uninvited's summer-house-on-the-lake setting appropriately deserted and eerie, but Anna's visions of creepy children and dead mothers have lost their shock after so many iterations in previous horror movies. The directors do, however, have better luck with their cast's performances - with nobody turning in the kind of hammy theatrics that can sometimes occur in mediocre fright films.
David Strathairn is nicely understated as the good dad blindsided by new love, while Arielle Kebbel shows a lot of sass as the smart-aleck older sister. Emily Browning unfortunately doesn't have much poise as the terrified and tormented Anna, although Elizabeth Banks does a good job using her girl-next-door attractiveness as a mask to hide a sinister streak.
Technical credits are polished with cinematographer Daniel Landin giving the British Columbia locales a picture-postcard beauty, while composer Christopher Young mimics the elegance of Bernard Herrmann's scores for Alfred Hitchcock's films.
Cold Spring Pictures
Parkes + MacDonald Productions
Montecito Picture Company
Walter F. Parkes
From Kim Ji-woon's A Tale Of Two Sisters