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The Uninvited (The Guard Brothers, 2009)


     Novice filmmakers The Guard Brothers’ well-crafted The Uninvited fares better than most recent Asian horror films in its translation to American screens. Starting with a blatantly Freudian set-up, in which a young girl fears that her stepmother has dispatched her birth mother, the movie quickly moves past psychological concerns to deploy a succession of creepy shock effects. Adapted from Kim Ji-woon’s 2003 cult favorite A Tale of Two Sisters, this remake is both more fast-paced and more loosely constructed. Lapses of logic and narrative incoherence must be forgiven if one is to embrace its pleasures, but for those willing to sidestep reason, it provides an enjoyable enough tale.


     What stands out about the production above all else is the quality of the casting. Emily Browning’s baby-faced presence in the lead role of Anna makes the shocks that the film has in store for her doubly effective. As her sister, Arielle Kebble doesn’t seem like Browning’s genetic match, but she brings a wicked comic spark and genuine sex appeal to what could be a rote role. David Strathairn has a tiny part as the patriarch of this household, but he seems appropriately world-weary before he utters a single line. Elizabeth Banks, as the deadly nurse who arouses Anna’s suspicions, looks perfect enough that it’s difficult to not distrust her. Her acting navigates ambiguous territory throughout. I wouldn’t argue that the cast turns in exceptional performances, but they do provide a level of shorthand to characterization that allows the movie to concentrate on its generic functions.


     The Guard Brothers have clearly seen enough horror films to understand how these things work. Atmosphere builds steadily throughout, largely through a series of unsettling visuals. Even before the first ghost appears, the movie has generated a sense of unease through its character interactions. Once supernatural happenings start, CG imagery is used judiciously enough that the movie retains its ability to surprise. Even as the plot derails in the third act, the overall level of tension belies the movie’s PG-13 rating. The Uninvited might be shameless product (many of the best B-movies are), but it seems wholly comfortable in its skin.



Jeremy Heilman