Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 1st, 2009
The Uninvited is yet another in a long string of Asian films that are translated and retooled for American audiences. It’s been a rather strong and long running trend that was kicked off with the wildly successful The Ring, from the Asian classic, Ringu. But, for every effective spooky thriller that comes out of this Asian pipeline, there appear to be a dozen or more complete failures. Some American directors think that all they need to do is throw fast moving creepy ghosts at us and often have them inhabit some modern electronic device. Presto! You have a horror movie for the purposes of generated cash. I’m happy to report that The Uninvited is a fresh approach that relies on almost none of these tired conventions to work. There is no morality tale about our modern conveniences here. No ghosts haunt cell phones, beepers, computers, video games, DVD’s, or even toaster ovens. The appearance of spectral creatures is actually quite limited and will disappoint the viewer who is there for the quick scare moments. This film uses the technique sparingly, and ultimately more effectively. The truth is that The Uninvited is really not so much a ghost story as a thriller in the vein of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. It gives us one of those rare endings that you won’t easily see coming at all. Most importantly, this movie completely shatters the mold of these Asian remakes by making it all about the characters; the human characters, that is. Based on the Korean film that roughly translates to Tale Of Two Sisters, this is a refreshing take on a stale theme.
Anna (Browning) is just getting out of a mental hospital. She’s been there for some time, following the death of her mother in a terrible house fire. She had been haunted by nightmares of that tragic night. Her doctors now think she will be able to cope and return home. Her father, Steven (Strathairn) is hopeful about bringing her home. There she is confronted by a harsh reality. Her mother had been infirm at the time of the fire. Now Anna has discovered that her mother’s former nurse, the very young Rachel (Banks) has moved into the house as her father’s lover and future wife. She notices that in her absence, her mother’s presence has been erased from the home as Rachel has redecorated and removed any connections to her dead mother. She takes comfort only in the company of her sister, Alex (Kebbel) who also hates the woman they see as an intruder in their home. Anna begins to have visions that her dead mother is warning her about Rachel and suspects the fire was not an accident. The sisters investigate, only to find that Rachel’s name is not a real one. Anna is convinced that Rachel killed her mother and will now do the same to her and her sister. When a local boy who claims to have information about the night Anna’s mother died turns up dead himself, Anna decides to get help. But no one appears interested in her story, and now Rachel knows she’s on to her. The film ends in a sort of typical cat and mouse game that ends up not being so typical after all.
Why can’t more modern horror films be like The Uninvited? The ending is clever, and I really didn’t see it coming. Certainly, it’s not original. You’ve seen this kind of twist before, but it does work quite effectively here. I wish I could say more, but it will totally spoil the film for you, if I reveal the climax. Suffice it to say that you will not feel cheated. The chemistry of Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel as the sisters is a very good one. If you didn’t believe this connection, the film really wouldn’t work when all is said and done. Add to the mix the perfect performance from Elizabeth Banks as Rachel, and you actually have your movie. There are a few good jump scenes, and the atmosphere is often creepy enough, but that’s not the backbone of this movie. When will Hollywood learn that these scare tactics work best in a completely believable environment and when they happen to very real people that are developed enough to actually care about. The lake house setting is an absolutely wonderful setting. Add to the mix that there is a potentially non-paranormal explanation for these things, and the equation is complete. X= a rare gem of a movie. The film creates questions that move us through the film. Is Anna insane and imagining the threat? Is Rachel an all too human threat? The film leaves you teetering between the supernatural and natural worlds until the very end. Honestly, even then you can’t be sure. You really need to think about inviting this Blu-ray release into your collection. I’ll bet it could use some freshening up, right?
Finally, I want to mention something almost trivial. It’s a “blink and you’ll miss it part”, but this was the last appearance in a film of the beloved Don S. Davis, General Hammond from the world of Stargate. He plays the owner of the grocery store in town. But, we know he was just working undercover to make sure this ghost business wasn’t really the work of the Go’uld. RIP, Don S. Davis.
The Uninvited is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a pretty good 1080p image brought to you through a strong AVC/MPEG-4 codec. I’m impressed that this movie also skipped the overused conventions of total darkness and blue tinted filters. The movie mostly displays a very natural looking color and lighting presence throughout most of its running time. Some of the visuals are just stunning. The establishing shots of the house and the lake are about as clear an image as I’ve seen. The water looks great as it shimmers and glimmers, reflecting images back to us in such detail that it’s just like being there. Flesh tones are extremely natural. Black levels and shadow detail are wonderful. There is a scene about halfway through the film where the sisters are out in the night. The sky contains some of the best night sky subtle color and shadow that I’ve ever seen. There’s this purple hint in the milky fog and dark sky that was hypnotic. The print is perfect, and I saw no compression difficulties. A nearly flawless crystal clear image is what you’ll get here.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track isn’t near as impressive. It’s not that there’s anything wrong here. It’s just that the opportunities to stand out are few and far between. Dialog is always clear and easy to understand. The music and ambient effects are all rather subtle, and this film operates almost entirely in front of us. Certainly there are the expected jump moments, and they work effectively here. The sub doesn’t get much to do either. This is very much a visual and not an audio experience.
All of these features are in HD.:
Unlocking The Uninvited: (19:00) Cast and crew provide the typical interview clips coupled with plenty of behind the scenes footage. The piece compares and contrasts the American and Korean versions of the film. It’s nice to have some perspective on the original material.
Deleted Scenes (5:37) and Alternate Ending (:50) There are 4 deleted scenes with optional play all feature. Mostly just extensions here and nothing to write home, or you, about. The Alternate Ending is pretty lame, and I’m not sure how this adds anything to the movie.
This is one of those movies you will love or hate. If you really like the trendy Asian conventions that we see in these films most often, this will disappoint. But, if you’re like me, and you’re looking for something fresh and more thoughtful, you’re in for a treat here. It never really looks, feels, or smells like the Asian remake genre. If you hadn’t heard it here, or elsewhere before you watched it, you likely would not have guessed the origin of the story. I kind of like the Korean title better. The Uninvited is misleading. Tale Of Two Sisters is exactly what this movie is. Korean or American. We’re not really all that different, are we? Americans love a good scare as much as anyone else; we’re “just crazier people”.