The Uninvited

There’s a significant twist in The Uninvited, a mangled remake of South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon’s exemplary chiller A Tale of Two Sisters. The fundamentals of the last-act surprise (which I cannot, obviously, reveal) remain intact but there is a vast gulf in how the two films arrive at the same point.

In short, The Uninvited offers certain proof, if it were required, that Hollywood should leave Asian horror to the Asians. The teenage demographic this workmanlike effort is aimed at might never have heard of Kim’s original and likely couldn’t care less one way or the other but they should know they are being short changed.

After almost a year in a mental hospital, Anna (Emily Browning) returns to her unfeasibly beautiful waterfront home with scarred wrists and a faraway look in her eyes. Soon, her only sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) has filled her in on the new domestic set-up. Their novelist father (David Strathairn) has overcome the trauma of their late mother’s death in a mysterious fire by shacking up with the young blonde nurse (Elizabeth Banks) who was employed to look after her. So far, so Brothers Grimm, but Anna is plagued by visions of her dead mother and visitations from three spectral children. And that’s before her boyfriend starts pressing her for sex.

Browning has the open face and wide-eyed stare required to communicate her character’s innocence and shows some skills in communicating Anna’s mental fragility without resorting to hysterics. Beside her, Kebbel hasn’t the talent to keep up. Her cause is not helped by the script, credited to three screenwriters, which fails to develop the relationship between the two sisters. The original title might have been a clue.

Although stranded by his scant handful of scenes, Strathairn is a dud as the conflicted father, giving a performance that is casual to the point of invisibility. It falls to Banks as the sneaky step-mother to steal the show, for what it’s worth. Her deliberately ambiguous mix of public concern and private spite keeps the ground moving under what might otherwise have remained a character lifted from a fairytale.

The original film had a twist that came as a genuine surprise. Here, for the last twenty minutes, it’s all there is to think about, even if you don’t know its coming. This genre-mandated predictability suffocates the modicum of dread created by directing brothers Charles and Thomas Guard’s expensive-looking but unoriginal visual effects. Originator Kim, who went on to make the blistering mafia shoot-em-up A Bittersweet Life and the recent The Good The Bad The Weird, did more with far less.

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