Film Review: The Uninvited

The latest Hollywood thriller to be inspired by a Korean horror movie, "The Uninvited" has a serviceable premise. Anna (Emily Browning), a fragile teenage girl, is released from a sanitarium where she has been confined following the fire that killed her mother. But when she returns home, she is distraught to learn that her father (David Strathairn) is now living with her mother's nurse (Elizabeth Banks). Anna begins seeing ghosts that suggest nursey killed her mother, but are these visions reliable specters like the ghost in "Hamlet," or are they figments of her deranged imagination?

The directors and producers have spoken in lofty terms of the Freudian influences on their movie, but in truth it's just a gimmicky thriller that doesn't play fair with the audience. It has just enough spooky moments to snare big opening weekend numbers, but it won't be around for long.

The remake has been entrusted to novice Brit directors, the Guard brothers, who honed their skills on commercials. But this movie doesn't have the elegantly sinister style that another British director, Danny Boyle, showed in his feature debut, "Shallow Grave." The Guards go in for shock cuts that sometimes elicit the requisite squeals from the audience, but their work seems generic rather than original.

It's hard to say too much about the plot without revealing the movie's surprise twists. Although there are echoes of Robert Mulligan's "The Other" and Stephen Gaghan's "Abandon," it's unlikely that audiences will see the twists coming. Yet surprise for its own sake is not always a virtue. The final reel turns everything that we've seen on its head but doesn't really make a lot of sense. You're left snorting in disbelief rather than smiling in pleasure over being duped.

The performances don't help. Browning, previously best known for "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," doesn't have the depth to bring off the complex central role. Strathairn is wasted on this slumming expedition. Banks, however, brings the right note of ambiguity to her role; we keep wondering if she is a solicitous or conniving stepmother. Arielle Kebbel is appealing as Anna's surly older sister.

The film makes good use of the setting: a lakeside mansion (actually filmed in British Columbia) that has a lot of shivery corners. In fact, all of the production values are solid. But the film is still cheesy rather than deliciously scary. It never really generates sustained suspense.
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