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.
B- (1 hr., 27 min.; )