Movie Review: The Uninvited
By Matthew Huntley
February 10, 2009
Don't let the ads fool you. The Uninvited isn't just another teenage horror movie with loud crescendos, characters suddenly leaping into frame and dumb young people making bad choices. It's marketed this way, I suppose, because such movies turn a quick buck at the box office. But the directors behind The Uninvited, brothers Charles and Thomas Guard, prove to be a pair of crafty filmmakers who care more about story than sensation. Their efforts pay off.
As the movie opens, Anna (Emily Browning) is making out with her boyfriend, Matt (Jesse Moss), on the beach below her parent's luxurious East Coast estate. She gets upset over Matt's direct proposal to sex and storms off, leaving behind her older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). On her way back up to the house, Anna enters the woods and finds three garbage bags full of children's dead bodies. She doesn't scream. Instead, her narration begins ("I'm in the woods") and we take a collective sigh of relief when we realize Anna is reconstructing a dream for her psychiatrist, Dr. Silberling (Dean Paul Gibson). I hoped Anna wouldn't really be so stupid as to open garbage bags while walking alone in the dark woods.
Anna has been living in a psychiatric hospital for the past ten months. She slit her wrists after her mother died in a fire in her family's beach house. Her mother was living in there because she was dying of a terminal illness. The nurse hired to care for her, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), tied a bell around her wrist so the family could hear her when she called.
After nearly a year of treatment, Dr. Silberling thinks Anna is ready to leave the hospital and urges her to finish what she started. Back at her house, Rachel has become a live-in girlfriend to Anna's father (David Strathairn), a successful writer, and the two plan on getting married in the fall. Anna and Alex aren't crazy about the idea. Deep down, they think Rachel is trying to get rid of them.
Soon after she arrives, Anna begins seeing physical manifestations of her dead mother and the three sickly children from her dream. It seems they are all trying to tell her something, perhaps that the beach house fire was no accident. Anna begins to suspect Rachel had something to do with it. Matt says he remembers everything about "that night," and he would tell Anna if Rachel would ever allow them to see each other.
What's fun and intriguing about The Uninvited is the way it never leads us down a definite path. We don't always know where it's going, but we remain curious. It's common for horror movies, especially teenage horror movies, to quickly fall flat because the screenplay explains everything up front. But the Guard Brothers seemed to have picked every scene apart and removed anything that could give away crucial information we're not supposed to readily know. The movie is subtle and careful with its clues and it keeps us interested and focused. You might say it even challenges us as we ponder the possibilities of its outcome.
This isn't the most original thriller. It's similar in mood and execution to other movies that pride themselves on misdirection and uncertainty (I won't reveal which ones out of fear it might give something away), but the screenplay, based on the 2003 Korean horror film, Changhwa Hongryon, is fresh and tight, and the movie is made more effective because of its strong performances. I was surprised by the earnestness that exists between Anna and Alex. Unlike many suspense movies with teenagers at the helm, Browning and Kebbel are actually talented and convincing. They also acted like real sisters. We care for them and want to figure out what's going on just as much as their characters do.
When I went into this movie, there were a bunch of giddy teenagers in the audience who were making noises and commenting on all the pre-feature trailers. In other words, they were being normal teenagers. But once the movie started, they sat quietly and seemed genuinely engaged by what was happening. This is the opposite of what happened during The Unborn screening from earlier this month, which had young people laughing, text messaging and talking throughout. I know it was a different audience altogether, but perhaps it's suggestive of the movie's quality. The Uninvited is made well enough that even flighty teenagers pay attention.