Uninvited, The: Remake of Korean Horror

Though not as scary or creepy as “Janghwa, Hongryeon,” the superior 2003 Korean horror flick on which it is based,  “The Uninvited” is a decent genre item that actually improves as it goes along, offering enough narrative and visual surprises to justify attendance for aficionados of this type of picture.


Too bad that the estimable actor David Strathairn, in a rare leading role, is not given much to do.  However, this is for a change a femme-driven horror, with not one but three good roles and performances, by Elizabeth Banks, and particularly Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel.


The number two features prominently in “The Uninvited”:  There are two directors behind the camera (Charles and Thomas Guard), two sisters in front, and at least two parallel stories, not to mention the fact that you are never sure whose perspective or vision to believe.


Drawing on countless horror and youth stories in which the protagonists are rebellious, alienated girls who are emotionally and/or sexually repressed, the scenario plays well with the paradigm of the outsider.  In this picture, the position of the outsider continues to change almost to the end.


When Anna (Emily Browning) is released from a sanitarium where she has been recovering for almost a year from attempted suicide after her mother’s tragic death in a fire, she is shocked to realize that her father Steven (David Strathairn) has become romantically involved with Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), the former nurse of her mother’s (Inevitably, you think of Barbara Stanwyck’s character in “Double Indemnity”).


Feeling betrayed and frightened, Anna seeks solace from her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel), but the latter is strangely, almost inexplicably distant and even hostile.  Lost and alienated, Anna lacks a sense of real family or meaningful belonging.  The aggressive and menacing Rachel has taken over their house, determined to erase all memories of their mother quickly and efficiently.


By way of explanation of her conduct, Alex confesses that she had felt abandoned by Anna, having been left alone to cope with Rachel. Whose life had been worse during the past year Anna holds that her conditions in the mental hospital were awful, while Alex insists that life at home was terrible as well. 


The fact that Steven has moved on so quickly from his dead spouse devastates both siblings. At first, they tell themselves that they’re “over it,” and no longer need their father.  Given Steven’s poor parenting skills, and his career priorities, they feel abandoned. For a while, the duo reconnects in their dislike for their dad’s new girlfriend. 

A major barrier to better communication is Steven’s new relationship, which blossomed too soon as far as the girls are concerned.  We get the feeling that family matters were attended to by his wife, and now that she’s gone, Steven is plagued with regret and guilt for not having been involved in his children’s lives.  Trying to catch up as a father and a friend-confidante, he realizes that he really doesn’t know his own daughters.

As the tale unfolds, many questions pile up.  Is Rachel a fake and a gold-digger A dangerously lethal woman Is Anna going mad, haunted by repressed memories and nightmarish visions of murdered children in trash bags and friends crying out for help.  Was the mother’s death just an accident, a result of leaking gas as the report stated, or cold-blooded murder

Tensions and suspicions build up, making teen angst almost unbearable.  Before long, the two sisters join forces in disgracing and implicating their stepmother in murder.  In a key scene, they secretly go through Rachel’s belongings, finding all kinds of strange objects, such as hypodermic needles and a huge vibrator, not to mention cheap, seductive lingerie.
They are also concerned with an issue that defines most of these thrillers:
Should they inform the police

As directed by Kim Jee-woon, the Korean film, “A Tale of Two Sisters,” was weirder, spookier, and more erotic and stylish than the America version. Korean (and Asian) horror films are freer and looser, less restricted by rules of mainstream narrative and classic structures that still define Hollywood movies.  Mostly set indoors, Kim’s tale emphasized the notion of a haunted house, dominated by evil spirits and a wicked stepmother, which led to bursts of anger and hysteria.  Through wonderful tracking shots of the long corridors and empty rooms, the director builds an all-pervasive ominous ambience.

The Guard brothers are novice British filmmakers, known for their commercials work, such as the one for French beer.  Thus, their American remake is less elegantly shot than the good Asian films we admire. End result is a more generic hybrid of supernatural Gothic horror and psychological thriller.

The picture was shot at a stunning, isolated waterfront property on British Columbia=s Bowen Island, about 30 miles from Vancouver.  It comes as no surprise that most of the story is nocturnal, and that the scariest scenes occur during heavy rainstorms.

Despite shortcomings, “The Uninvited” is not mindless or gratuitous as other recent horror flicks, and it’s well produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who previously had overseen, “The Ring”  (the remake of the Japanese film “Ringu”), which began a new cycle of Asian horror screen adaptations, and the sequel “The Ring Two.”

The film is also well-acted.  Up-and-coming star Banks proves that she’s a versatile actress who can do dramas, comedies, and suspensers, and there’s good chemistry between Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel, who enact some riveting and painful moments as a close family unit violated by a malevolent outsider that many teenage girls could relate to.