9 May 2009 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: The Uninvited
I haven't seen the original Tale of Two Sisters by Kim Ji-woon to begin with so I won't be able to do any meaningful comparisons. But if a remake is any indication of how the original is generally miles better, especially if done by Hollywood, hen it probably is worth my while to put the Korean horror movie in my to-watch list. After all, Kim Ji-woon's film is one of Korea's top box office draws when released.
There have been more misses than hits when Hollywood adapts what it thinks could be instant box office gold with its fountain of Asian content, and since there have been only a limited number of successful Asian horror releases in recent years, it had looked inwards and cannibalized on remaking its own shock/slasher films. This one took a long while to translate to The Uninvited, and I guess taking some 6 years indicated the filmmakers wanted to do things right instead of rushing through and come out with crap.
As such the directing duo of the Guard Brothers Charles and Thomas managed to find some balance between telling a psychological thriller, and moments where they can properly employ tricks from the usual formula book to scare an audience, with the usual light and shadows, smoke and mirrors, warped beings, decomposed bodies and jump cuts with ghouls staring down at you. Surprisingly it didn't rely on sound or lack thereof to add a further sensory dimension to set pulse racing, which I thought was a little let down in its moments to build up to the next "Boo!" If anything, the acting duo of Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, with pouty lips to rival Angelina Jolie's, and given special attention too in this narrative) and Arielle Kebbel shine as skimpily clad sisters Anna and Alex respectively, who have to rely on each other as they uncover the truth behind the death of their mom (Maya Massar). It doesn't help of course with Anna just being certified sane and safe to be released from a mental institution, and their suspect happens to be their nanny-turned-new-step-mom-to-be Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) whom dad (David Strathairn) intends to marry. Given the short run time of under 90 minutes, the pace is kept compact with little room wasted to pump in unnecessary subplots (unless set up just to provide an additional avenue to unleash horrific mayhem), focusing very much of the relationship between the two sisters, and their strained one with their father. Emily Browning, as the lead, of course had enough latitude to showcase a double-head snake role in being "nice" to Rachel, in order for some fishing of information.
That isn't to say there isn't any loophole that a jumbo jet can't fly through. Even if you have no background knowledge gained from the original Korean film, it is easy enough for sharp-eyed viewers, or those whose cinematic staple is horror films, to stay one step ahead and deduce just what is exactly going on. Which makes me wonder just how much it'll take for shockmeisters to scare seasoned audiences since they're getting savvier, and easily bored with the same old bag of tricks.
If anything, The Uninvited would have piqued your interest in the original, which has a longer run time and in all likelihood, the exploitation of mood and atmosphere that are quite standard tools for horror films from Asia, which is sorely lacking in this version. Nonetheless it's still one of the better Western remakes of Asian horror attempted.