February 4, 2009

Movie Review: The Uninvited (2009)

theuninvited1_smallThis is a movie I was all set to pass. That's right, a horror movie that I had little interest in seeing. Why? That is a good question. First off, did you see the trailer or any of the commercials? If you did, then you have a pretty good reason not to see said film. Simply put, the ads have been downright awful. I felt as if I had seen the entire film in the span of a scant couple of minutes. That is not a good thing. Trailers are supposed to excite the viewer, entice them to want to see the movie. This does neither. I am a horror fan and I am more than willing to sit through complete dreck, but sometimes you have to draw the line somewhere. What changed my mind? Two things. The first is the fact that Roger Ebert gave it a three-star review. I do not always agree with him, and I did not read the content, but the mere appearance of the trio was enough to reignite my interest. The other reason is that I was interested in the pairing of Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn.

theuninvitedpic6With my screening now safely in the rear view mirror I feel safe in saying that I am shocked. I liked The Uninvited. I was so sure the trailers had given me everything I wanted to know. I was wrong. The movie is surprisingly effective, occasionally scary, and frequently tense, more than can be said for another recent horror flick, The Unborn. Having seen the two Un-films, I am a little surprised by how they turned out, both proving how unreliable trailers can be. I was sure that The Unborn was going to prove the more successful film, the trailer showed some genuinely creepy moments and just looked a bit "cooler," then I saw the film and the result was a jumbled incomprehensible mess. The Uninvited came forth with that awful trailer and turned out to be the better film.

At the center of The Uninvited is Anna (Emily Browning). She is a troubled teen who lost her sick mother in a tragic fire. Anna has a terribly hard time coming to grips with what happened, having blocked out the entire night from her memory and ending up in a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to deal with her mother's death. She has nightmares that hint at what happened but never tell the whole story.

theuninvitedpic7Having made some progress, Anna is released from the hospital and returns home with her father, Steven (David Strathairn). Anna is happy to see her father and is very much looking forward to reuniting with her older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). Her happiness is short lived as she arrives home to discover dad's new girlfriend has moved in, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), who also happens to be her mother's former nurse.

What follows is an ever intensifying suspicion and tension as Anna believes Rachel to be responsible for her mother's death. Along with Alex, Anna sets out to prove Rachel's misdeeds while also being haunted by visions of her mother and three young children.

To say more would begin moving into spoiler territory, and this is a movie that is better served by not knowing much. The film unfolds in a way that will actually keep you guessing. I had a couple of ideas early on only to find that I was just a wee bit off. I will recommend keeping an eye (or ear) out for seemingly throwaway lines early on as well as who talks to who.

I am impressed with how well this film is put together. It is no high art or even a high water mark for the genre, but it works exceptionally well. The screenplay builds the tension, the direction keeps you on your toes, and the performances are all quite effective.

theuninvitedpic12Emily Browning does a fine job as Anna. The Australian actress has a certain otherworldly quality to her that only serves to heighten her emotions. Then there are the adult cast members, Strathairn and Banks. They do a fine job bringing credibility to a rather outrageous tale, who would have thought to look in a PG-13 horror movie for David Strathairn? Not to be forgotten is Arielle Kebbel as Alex, the older sister. It is a surprisingly tough role that she pulls off in adequate fashion.

The direction is handled by The Guard Brothers (Charles and Thomas, making their feature film debut). The duo do a fine job of building tension to a feverish pitch while also pulling off some directorial sleight of hand, keeping you off guard for the finale. They worked from a script by Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard (based on the original screenplay for Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters) that works hard at throwing you off the scent. No, none of it is terribly original, and much of it does have an air of familiarity, but they come together and make it work better than I would have thought possible.

Bottomline. Surprisingly effective and actually worth checking out, The Uninvited is the first good horror film of the year despite a terrible trailer and poor title. You may see where it is going, but I doubt you will be able to accurately predict the finish. So, I guess Ebert was right after all.

Recommended.

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