You know the type I’m talking about: everything about the production looks so damned good that you’re almost distracted from the fact that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. You’re almost oblivious to the fact that all the ingredients in the film are derivative and overly-familiar.
However, I can note that The Uninvited certainly boasts the familiar flavor of Asian horror as we’ve come to understand the form during the last decade, or at least since the remake of The Ring (2002). What that boils down to here is the presence of a long-haired, crouching ghost that skulks across the floor, head down, body contorted. And naturally, the ghost is angry about some transgression in the past.
The Uninvited’s narrative revolves around a teenage girl named Anna, a character played with entrancing innocence by young Emily Browning. Anna has been living in a mental asylum for nearly a year now following the accidental death of her sick mother. As the film commences, Anna is released from custody and brought home by her Dad (David Straithairn), a successful author.
But Anna is not happy to learn that good old Dad is already shacking up with the lovely Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), Mom’s home-care nurse. Anna is also disturbed by the fact that she still has memory gaps surrounding the night Mom died and the boathouse exploded.
Once at home, Anna experiences ghostly visions of her Mom; visions that suggest the sick woman was actually murdered by Rachel. Anna informs her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) about this vision and her suspicions, and together they begin to investigate Rachel’s history. They quickly learn that Rachel is living under an alias.
Then Anna’s would-be-boyfriend, Matt confides in Anna that he “saw what happened” the night of her Mother’s accident. But before Matt can explain further, he inconveniently dies under mysterious and tragic circumstances…
To reveal any further detail about the plot would no doubt ruin the film’s many surprises. But suffice it to say that The Uninvited features a third-act twist that the experienced horror fan will see coming from a mile away.
A little hint: a horror movie like this is never, strictly-speaking, totally straight-forward (not even if it runs under 90 minutes). If a horror movie starts out by pointing the finger at one particular character, that character is, inevitably, not going to be the guilty party. He or she is a red herring. But you knew that already.
Unfortunately, The Uninvited doesn’t quite plays fair with its last act revelation. I like and admire Elizabeth Banks a great deal, but she’s really and truly lost here. Frankly, I don’t see how some of Rachel’s behavior and actions (particularly involving a hypodermic needle) can be interpreted in two ways, as the screenplay ultimately demands.
There’s also the not inconsiderable matter of the film’s closing lines. Someone says something along the lines of “I’m finishing what I started.” This declaration is supposed to be ominous and a bit ironic.
The funny thing about The Uninvited is that no expense has been spared on the production. Anna’s house (in Maine) must be a million dollar house, conservatively-speaking. The location, the structure, the interior everything — it’s all absolutely gorgeous. The ghost effects are handled well too and there’s even one honest-to-goodness, jump-out-of-your seat jolt moment involving a kitchen stove. The actors all do their best, and occasionally rise above the material.
So it’s easy to sit back, look at all these admirable surface qualities and then be lulled into believing that you’re seeing a good horror movie.
In fact, you’re seeing warmed-up leftovers from approximately a dozen recent and not-so-recent films. Though audacious, the story resolution here just doesn’t make any sense. It depends on a weird coincidence involving jewelry. It depends on a convenient memory gap. It depends on the whole movie being interpreted as a “point of view” when the film itself doesn’t embody or express a particular point of view.