Emily Browning as Anna
Arielle Kebbel as Alex
David Strathairn as Steven
Elizabeth Banks as Rachael
Maya Massar as Mom
Kevin McNulty as Sheriff Emery
Jesse Moss as Matt
Dean Paul Gibson as Dr. Silberling
Don S. Davis as Mr. Henson
Lex Burnham as Iris
Matthew Bristol as David
Danny Bristol as Samuel
Heather Doerksen as Mildred
Directed by The Guard Brothers
Technically proficient as a horror film but too derivative and laden with plot twists to be effective, it’s hard to enjoy this cluttered remake knowing how much better the original movie is.
After the death of her mother in a fire, Anna (Emily Browning) was sent to an institution, but on her return home, she discovers her father (David Strathairn) is sleeping with her mother’s nurse Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), and her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is convinced Rachel was responsible for the fire.
Fans of the original Korean horror flick “A Tale of Two Sisters” by Ji-woon Kim, as rare a breed as they may be, should be intrigued by the prospect of translating that movie’s unique blend of family drama, supernatural tension and gore-filled horror to American audiences. With the producers of The Ring trying to create a similarly complex ghost thriller out of the original idea, it’s shocking that the original movie is barely mentioned in the promotional materials, just as that name has been changed to the far less enticing current title.
Granted, it must have been a fairly daunting task for first-time filmmakers The Guard Brothers to figure out how to capture the quirky charm and style of director Kim’s movie while making something that might appeal to American teens. They do their best to work around the onus of maintaining the “Sixth Sense” level twist by distracting the viewer with so many layers of subplots, a problem that’s further compounded the farther this remake gets away from the original source material.
While most horror movies falter based on the quality of writing and acting, this has a stronger script and cast than normal with David Strathairn taking a low-key backseat to the three actresses. Emily Browning does an impressive job carrying the film as Anna, and Arielle Kebbel is quite entertaining as her sassy older sister Alex. Elizabeth Banks wouldn’t seem like the most obvious choice to play an evil stepmom, since she’s usually immediately likeable in anything she does, but she has fun toning down that aspect as you find yourself rooting for Anna and Alex.
The Guards are strong enough filmmakers at creating a tone and maintain some of the imagery from the original like the horrifying visual of a garbage bag trailed by blood, one of the eerier memories from the original. Even so, the Guard Brothers recycle that image three times, even taking a cue from Takashi Miike’s “Audition” at one point. The movie revisits a few of the more memorable scares from the original movie, though most of them lose their impact as they’re telegraphed by a cookie cutter score that makes it abundantly clear when something scary is about to happen. If Anna’s creepy dead mother isn’t bad enough – basically playing the same arthritic ghost card that’s been overused since “The Grudge” – there’s also three creepy dead kids roaming around trying to warn Anna of something the audience should figure out soon after the movie starts. (In that sense, the movie has more in common with next week’s animated family film “Coraline” at times than it does to the original Korean thriller.) Things start to get silly when Anna approaches the local sheriff with her future stepmother’s past misdeeds, and he seems completely oblivious to highly publicized local murders.
Eventually the movie can no longer avoid the inevitable big reveal; those who haven’t seen the original movie will probably be surprised, since it’s generally handled in a clever enough way that one can re-watch the movie and see how they hid the twist. Unsatisfied with surprising some of the audience with that, the movie starts derailing itself with multiple twists trying to resolve all the red herring subplots that have piled up over the previous 85 minutes.
In the end, “The Uninvited” is by no means the worst supernatural thriller you’ll see this year nor is it the worst in a long line of bad English language remakes of far-better foreign horror films; it’s just such a derivative mess one hardly can justify the film adding much to the genre. Regardless, if you haven’t seen the original movie, you’ll probably be more forgiving than those who have.