As part of our ongoing battle with mortality, ghosts have become a comforting conduit to "the other side." No longer are they purely spectral poltergeists bent on driving the living insane. Instead, if you believe most of the movies made since the arrival of Eastern horror on these Western shores, these supernatural envoys are hell-bent on warning the living about the unholy terrors crawling beneath their very noses. In the case of the burnt-up phantom at the center of this remake of the Korean hit A Tale of Two Sisters, the message is loud and clear: Stay away from the incessantly dull American version.
After 10 months in a psychiatric hospital, young Anna Rydell (Emily Browning) returns to her family home in Maine. There she must face a distant father (David Strathairn), sarcastic sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel), and the newest member of the clan, nurse turned girlfriend Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks). You see, Anna's mother got very sick -- so sick that Dad had to hire a blond bimbette to care for her. Naturally, their relationship turned sexual, and all Anna remembers a bell, a fire, a horrific death, and a stint in the loony bin. Now that she's back, she wants to remember what happened -- and all signs point to Rachel as some kind of brash black widow. Anna is convinced that her Dad's new galpal is out to destroy the family, and there are ghosts from a supernatural realm who appear to agree.
The Uninvited is piffle, a Lifetime family drama masquerading as a stand-up big screen horror film. To call it generic would be an understatement -- it's so obvious in what it tries to accomplish that it practically provides a roadmap. Directed with little or no panache by Britain's Guard brothers (Charles and Thomas) and featuring one of the most overused twists in the entire Sixth Sense school of scares, this is a movie made up solely of false shocks and dull stretches of pseudo seriousness. There are frequently times when we're not sure if this is supposed to be The Grudge or Shoot the Moon. The tone is so uneven, the narrative threads so patently unraveled, that there's no way to get a handle on what is happening.
In the Korean original, the ambiguity of what is going on lends the finale a far less substantive spin. We can go back over events and realize how much was real and how much was manipulated and manufactured. Here, the script simply gives up the whodunit set up, puts Banks in the spotlight as the main suspect, and then gamely tosses red herrings at the screen. By the time of the big reveal, we don't nod in appreciation as much as shrug our shoulders in disbelief. The Guards do so little to prepare for the big unveiling that the moment comes off as confusing, and ultimately counterproductive, to everything we've seen before.
And it's too bad really, because Banks does a very good job at playing implied evil. She finds little ways of reading her open-ended lines to convince us that she's no good. Strathairn is given the thankless job of playing one of those out-of-touch fathers who can't help but ignore everything his pleading, desperate daughters say. As the heroines, Browning and Kebbel are willing, if grating at times. With the need to play most of the secrets very close to the vest, the performances must really be convincing. In the case of our young leads, they're just adequate. In fact, everything about this flaccid film needed to be tweaked a notch or two. As it stands, it barely delivers a single shiver.
Certainly deserved an invitation.