Facing the horror (again) of a flawed, uninviting remake

January 30, 2009|By Glenn Whipp | Glenn Whipp,Los Angeles Times

The Uninvited offers ironclad proof that Hollywood should give up the ghost already when it comes to remaking Asian horror movies. But really, how many ticket buyers in The Uninvited's targeted teen demographic know - or care - that it can't hold a flickering candle to the South Korean original, Kim Jee-woon's 2003 creep-fest, A Tale of Two Sisters?

Where Kim created a deeply unsettling vibe with a sinister house and a host of deeply unhinged characters, The Uninvited settles for a grab bag of horror movie tropes (the heroine sees dead people - and then some!).

Teenager Anna (Emily Browning) believes there's something evil in her house. Given that blood is seeping from keyholes and crows are feasting on dining-table leftovers, she could be on to something. Or she could be having a nightmare. Anna is prone to bad dreams and hallucinations. But that's not why she's in a mental institution when we first meet her. Anna tried to kill herself after her invalid mother died in a ghastly explosion at the family's home.

But now her psychiatrist is telling her that "maybe it's not such a bad thing to forget the past 10 months" and to "go home and finish what you started." When Anna returns, she discovers that Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), the sexy family nurse who was taking care of her bedridden mother, is getting it on with her understandably distracted dad (David Strathairn).

"She's helping him cope - three times a night," Anna's sarcastic older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), tells her.

But there are signs that Rachel might have other things on her mind. For starters, she gets a little too defensive whenever the events surrounding Mom's death are discussed. She's also a little too handy with a carving knife. Need more proof? Well, there's the fact that Mom (Maya Massar) keeps popping up around the house, screaming "Murderer!" while pointing at Rachel.

The movie's fatal flaw is the undeveloped relationship between the two sisters. In his film, Kim created an unbreakable bond that was central to the story's big revelation. When that twist arrives in The Uninvited, it feels like a gimmick. Thankfully, Banks throws herself into the stereotype with gusto, but the movie's source material invited a much more thoughtful interpretation.

The Uninvited *

(Dreamworks/Paramount) Starring Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Charles and Thomas Guard. Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, sexual content and language. Time 87 minutes.

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