Eric D. Snider

The Uninvited

Movie Review

The Uninvited

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B-

Released: January 30, 2009


Directed by:


This is a thorny one. I didn't particularly enjoy most of "The Uninvited," a PG-13 thriller about teenage sisters who believe their dad's new girlfriend is evil. Some of it was tolerable but nothing special; some of it was truly irritating. But then the finale came around, with a twist I hadn't anticipated -- a twist that justifies (or at least explains) some of the irritating parts -- and now I had to reconsider.

Can failure to enjoy 80 minutes of a film be canceled out by liking the last five? If I only like a movie in hindsight, and not while I'm actually watching it, does that mean I liked it or didn't like it?

These are difficult philosophical questions. Theologians have pondered them for centuries. All I can do is report my experience with the film, without giving too much away, and let you take it from there.

It's based, as are most Hollywood films, on an Asian movie, a well-regarded South Korean property called "A Tale of Two Sisters." As we begin, young Anna (Emily Browning) has just spent 10 months in a mental institution after attempting suicide following the death of her mother in a fire. This tragedy was compounded by the fact that Mom was bedridden and dying anyway, which adds a certain cruel irony to the whole thing.

Anna is overjoyed to be reunited with Alex (Arielle Kebbel), her rebellious older sister and protector, particularly since in Anna's absence, their father, Steven (David Strathairn), a novelist, has taken up with Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), who is much too young for him and who was Mom's in-home nurse during her final days.

The girls are automatically mistrustful of Dad's new squeeze, of course; it doesn't help that Rachael says everything with a creepy, icy tinge to it, like a Stepford wife. Even innocent statements sound ominous with that kind of delivery, and bless Elizabeth Banks' heart for being game enough to go full whacko if that's what the directors (brothers Charles and Thomas Guard, in their first feature film) wanted.

As it turns out, Anna and Alex have legitimate cause for alarm about Rachael's intentions. The film stops pussyfooting and says flat-out that Rachael is dangerous, and that's where the frustration begins, as Anna and Alex fail to report to anyone -- their dad, the cops -- exactly what they've learned. Oh, they make vague accusations, the likes of which you'd expect from teenagers whose father has started dating someone new. But despite being armed with specific damning information, they don't reveal it. THIS IS IRRITATING.

Oh, and Anna keeps seeing ghosts who have haunting things to tell her about Rachael. I don't think the ghosts are necessary. This is not inherently a supernatural story. Are the ghosts present simply because all Asian thrillers involve ghosts? Should I consider myself lucky that the ghosts aren't stringy-haired young Japanese children crab-walking out of bathtubs, like they usually are?

And then there's the finale, which, as I said, I liked. It fits with what we already know while also revealing surprising new information. The only downside: I had my review half-written in my head already, and now I had to change it. Even in retrospect it's not a great film, but it's better than the first 80 minutes suggested it was going to be.

One quibble: The film is told from Anna's point of view. There are no scenes in which she does not appear, or events that she does not witness. The one exception is a shot of Rachael eavesdropping on Anna and Alex from outside the door, hearing their conversation, then walking worriedly away. This shot is a mistake. The film has committed itself to telling the story strictly through Anna's eyes, and it's important that this point of view be maintained. Shifting away from that -- especially just for one shot -- is a violation.

Grade: B-

Rated PG-13, some sexual dialogue and innuendo, one F-word, moderate violence

1 hr., 27 min.

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This item has 13 comments

  1. Anthony says:

    While I look to your reviews as an intelligent perspective to guide my viewing choices, there are some criticisms I have. One is that your careful style of preserving plot often gives away key features of the plot. Such as "teenage sisters who believe their dad's new girlfriend is evil", which implies that she is not, in fact, evil. I don't know, I haven't seen the movie. But it looked from the trailers as if she is evil and controlling all the evil events that happen to the girls. *If* I go see it now, I'm going to expect that her being evil is a red herring thanks to that word "believe". Please, please, don't use such leading words if it's central to the plot that we believe from the girls perspective.

  2. Sarah says:

    I wondered when they would remake A Tale of Two Sisters. I've seen this awesome Korean film several times and love it, so I don't know if I should go see this curiosity to see what they did to it may be stronger than my desire not to sit through a movie that is irritating until the very end.

  3. john doe says:

    "Are the ghosts present simply because all Asian thrillers involve ghosts?"

    In Asian culture, ghosts/spirits are everyday occurrences. When I served my mission in Taiwan, it was normal for people to tell me stories of their dead family members visiting them. In fact, some people went so far as to think it strange if they were not visited by spirits several times a year. These were educated, non-religious folks here. In Taiwan, there's even a "ghost month" which is similar enough to the origin of our Halloween: ghosts visit the mortal plane and may cause mischief. The difference is, we Americans don't actually believe this today. In Taiwan, college-educated and non-religious folks will do public ceremonies to ward off the ghosts because they believe they are as real as the wind.

    I'm assuming Japan and Korea have similar traditions. At least, this came to my mind when you mentioned how spirits exist in a non-supernatural Asian story.

  4. Eric D. Snider says:

    Such as "teenage sisters who believe their dad's new girlfriend is evil", which implies that she is not, in fact, evil.

    Ah, I found your problem: No, it does not imply that. "Teenage sisters who believe their dad's new girlfriend is evil" is an accurate description and reveals nothing. The film is from their point of view, and they do indeed believe it. That says nothing about whether they're RIGHT to believe it (and indeed, later in the review I said that the movie comes out and SAYS Rachael is dangerous). The word "believe" is, itself, neutral. You have read way too much into it.

  5. Dave the Slave says:

    I hate when directors do that (film the entire movie from a certain character's perspective, except for one terrible shot that immediately breaks the fourth wall).

    Worst one I've seen is in I Am Legend. We go the whole movie only seein the zombie dudes when Will Smith sees them, (including the excellently done flashlight in the pitch black building scene)then towards the end when they're swarming to his sanctuary theres several shots of just the zombies running around while hes in his house, clearly not seeing what we're seeing. It just immediately draws you out of the experience entirely; the danger is no longer even remotely personal, we're watching from the sidelines, seeing what the main character isn't seeing.

    Anyways, sorry to rant about a different movie in the comments to this movie, that just made me think of that.

    To try to help with your question, Eric, have you thought about it the opposite way? If you enjoyed a film for 85 minutes, then the last 5 sucked extremely bad, would you still consider it a good movie? Granted the length of time one feels annoyed or entertained is important, but good movies stick with you, so its also more important how you remember them in my opinion. Just my 2 cents. :-)

  6. BrianO says:

    Just out of nowhere here: A perfect example of loving the first 85 minutes and hating the last five for me was "The Mist." Did that ending piss off/frustrate the heck out of anyone else? It was that last five minutes that makes me unsure whether to recommend it to others, although I enjoyed it (and how well it stuck to the original story) up until then.

  7. Acrimonious says:

    Your irritation here reminds me of a pet peeve I have involving TV and movies. Way too often a character will be faced with a situation where the best course of action is to explain the situation clearly and quickly. And they fail. Either by staying mute or bungling an explanation by misarranging facts or leaving stuff out for no reason.

    It happens way too often.

  8. Admiral Byrd says:

    If your name weren't Anthony, I'd think you were a woman-- over analyzing and reading waaay too much into a straightforward sentence.

  9. Leigh says:

    We just came from seeing it. I'm not here to pick the movie apart. I just am having trouble wrapping my mind around the ending...It puts me in mind of the "I see dead people" movie(can't remember the name)...anyway, the pearls and the insane asylum, and how the pearls ended up there, instead of the police...completely lost, and someone explain it to me???

  10. DCUnitedFan says:

    I'll chime in on the 80 minute good / five minute bad vs. 80 minute bad / five minute good discussion. I think the last five minutes carry the most weight. For example, I love the show Lost. I think it is brilliant television, and one of the best series ever made. I watch it every week, and have every season on DVD. I go forward knowing full well that all of my time and effort spent following Lost could be ruined in the last five minutes of the finale.

  11. Cassie says:

    I loved this movie. So much i pushed play and re-watched the entire thing right after I figured out the end. I never once for a second thought Alex wasn't real through-out the entire movie. I was spun when I found that out and when she went back and mildred told her welcome home and she said to the councelor guy 'i did what you said, i finished what i started' at the end. fabulous. tottally wrapped everything up. she set out to kill rachel and she did.

    i absolutly LOVED this movie and cannot wait to get it onto DVD

  12. CeeCee says:

    Need help to settle a bet with Hubby!

    When Alex and Annie were talking during the dinner party. Annie explains the plan and Alex tells her, " That will take a lot of_____" What does she say?????????????????

  13. Maria Solio says:

    I didn't care for Anna, it was Alex I cared about. I love her character. So the ending was a shame, really.

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