At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Uninvited “09”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Horror-Thriller/ Stars: Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, Arielle Kebbel, David Strathairn, Jesse Moss, Kevin McNulty, Don S. Davis, Heather Doerksen/ Runtime: 87 minutes

I feel it must be said that there is a very narrow line when it comes to films which are concerned only with the twist that is contained in them and films that are in and out of themselves a twist to begin with. In the case of the latter definition, these are films which typically unfold in a manner that is both brilliant and which also manages to sidestep the gimmicks that are usually utilized by less potent films in the horror/thriller genre that are either completely ridiculous or that explain way too much of the machinations at work behind the twist. I think it is safe to say then that the horror film from 2009 known as The Uninvited is a pitch-perfect example of this very concept. Indeed what makes this film so potent is how it gradually builds up both everything going on in the narrative as well as its ability to hide its secrets in plain sight and a strong lack of really desiring to misdirect audiences. A blessing really when you think about how the vast majority of horror films seem to really desire to manipulate its target audience and then lead them by the hand to where they need to be so the twist can then be revealed. This film however is anything but and instead manages to be fairly is straight and honest with the audience and chooses instead to rely more on discoveries by the characters involved and only keeps from the audience things that our main heroine herself cannot remember…..at least at first. Yet while this film, a remake of an effectively spooky Asian film no less, is most certainly not perfect, it is appropriately nerve-wracking, decently brought to life by a good cast, and honestly possesses one of the more unique twist endings I have seen in a long time….

The plot is as follows: The Uninvited tells the story a young is teen by the name of Anna. As our story opens, Anna is just getting out of a mental institution where she has been spending the past ten months following the horrifically tragic demise of her frail mom in a terrifying fire that engulfed the family boat house where she had been staying under observation. Yet, her demons about the past having been apparently conquered, Anna has now come home to her family’s gorgeous New England house that is on the edge of the coast. Yet even though she is ecstatic about being reunited with both her father and her older sister Alex, she is not as thrilled about being around her dad’s new significant other Rachel in large part because Rachel was her late mother’s nurse who was supposed to be taking care of her the night of the accident. Yet it isn’t long before it should become apparent that Rachel seems to be keeping something under wraps; a something that our intrepid young heroine and her sister are convinced is the fact that she set the fire that killed their mom. However, as they begin to dig more and more into her past, more questions than answers begin to rise and it isn’t long before Anna finds herself being visited. Not only by the spirit of her deceased mom, but also by a trio of unusual kids that seem to have some kind of link to Rachael. Together these apparitions will take our heroine by the hand and lead her head-on into a nightmare…..

Now I will admit: I wasn’t exactly the most convinced in the world that this film was going to be anything really worth seeing. This is because not only is it a remake of a pretty well-received Asian film known as A Tale of Two Sisters, but also because this is a horror movie that has been slapped with a PG-13 rating, which is often a bad sign. Yet I must admit: this movie was actually able to surprise me and in a good way. Indeed this is because this is a film which turned out to be more than the usual horror thriller that is churned out for the tween and teenage movie going crowds. This is because first and foremost the screenwriter for this film managed to do an absolutely incredible job with this movie. Indeed even though the “evil step parent” premise is one that has been the focal point of movies before, there are actually a few distinct twists, turns, and curves in the road on this one that really help distinguish it and help this film from settling for just being “average”. Not only that, but unless you have seen the original version of this story, you would have no way of knowing just where exactly this movie’s narrative is headed. In addition, this film’s story manages to do a wonderful job at mixing in the more supernatural ingredients including ghosts into a story that also incorporates a real sense of menace and danger that is hanging over our intrepid young heroine as well as her sister.

The next thing that really distinguishes this film is the fact that the work done from this film’s cinematography department is absolutely phenomenal and the place where all of this terror unfolds is just as terrific. Indeed by setting 95% of the movie inside and around a gorgeous and quite immersive estate in New England that is also located on the side of some quite rocky ocean-view all included cliffs. A location I might add that, if the chills you got while reading that were any indication, ensures that plenty of creepy and spooky things will occur. Indeed not only is this a wonderful location from an atmosphere perspective because of this, but also because it feels both warm and familiar yet also insidious at the same time. I also really appreciate just how this movie chooses to take as much time as needed to build everything up. Indeed this film follows a terrific formula of not really being too gasp-worthy while also raising quite a few important questions in the beginning followed by going into high gear in the middle, and then peeling back the curtain on everything you just witness thus leaving you floored at the end. Not to mention, but the cliche of horror films that is the jump scare is thankfully not as prevalent in this film. This is because suspense is this film’s primary concentration, a fact that is both a wonderful and always welcome change from what I see usually in this genre. Finally I also really appreciated both the ever-present sense of insidious and sinister tension throughout as well as the wonderful sense of pacing that this film has chosen to get audiences to the conclusion of the film which I assure you will leave you shocked.

Now before I get a little more in-depth in regards to a few, non-spoiler as par for this distinct course, aspects about this film’s conclusion to events, I also feel that this film’s cast definitely deserves some mention as they all manage to do fairly good work here. This of course starts with Miss Emily Browning from 2011’s Sucker Punch, 2002’s Ghost Ship, or 2004’s adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events in the lead role and she manages to do quite wonderfully at showcasing a young woman who cares very deeply for her family and just wants to get over the demons of the past, but when confronted by them, has no reservations about trying to get to the bottom of things. We also get a wonderful turn from Arielle Kebbel is also very good as Anna’s older, party-adoring, yet serious when the situation calls for it sister Alex who helps her in the investigation into Rachael’s past. Indeed this is one of two very intriguing parts for reasons I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say Kebbel does terrific in bringing this character to life. The other intriguing part in this would, of course, be the character of Rachael aka the stepmom from hell herself. Indeed this is perhaps the most intriguing part to the film and to play this part you would need an actress who might be known for work in other genres, but who could still turn in a wonderful performance if called upon (like Kristen Wiig for example). To that end, the filmmakers decided to bring onboard Miss Elizabeth Banks, who had mostly done comedy before and since this, but she actually manages to, despite her comedic background, come across as someone who not only has a slight air of menace about her, but who also could be seen as quite the roadblock to 2 young girls and their loving relationship with their father. Finally in the role of Alex and Anna’s loving, concerned, but not exactly believing dad we get wonderfully dependable work from terrific character actor David Strathairn (the main antagonist in the third Bourne movie). Indeed he manages to do a wonderful job at being both concerned for his little girls, but also quite exasperated at the continued attempts to undermine his relationship with Rachael. Suffice it to say then that this core group of performers manages to do quite strong work, and the chemistry that they have with one another doesn’t really forced in any way; a feat that I feel adds quite a bit to the final product.

Now when it comes to the matter of how this film chooses to wrap everything up, I give you all my word that I shall not spoil it. What I will say is that it honestly was quite ingenious and quite clever. Indeed the very first time I saw this film, it completely blindsided and I was left both incredulous and overwhelmed with giddy anxiety (if such an emotional mix is possible). Indeed to be fair I have seen curveballs like this play out in movies before, but this one is quite unexpected. Yet the odd thing is that, upon reflection after watching the movie, there are hints scattered throughout that the movie intends to have this be the way it wraps everything up. The only challenging aspect is that these hints are so delightfully low-key that you most likely won’t pick up on them the first time you watch and yet I appreciate any film that manages to throw me for a curve like this one did. Plus when you have an ending shot that is both innocent enough yet also insidiously creepy like this one has, you really have the perfect cap to what has been a horror flick that is both engaging and also quite clever in equal measure.

All in all I felt that in many respects The Uninvited is truly a wonderful departure from the typical PG-13 horror film to the point that this actually has in doses the finesse and style of a horror film that actually possesses a degree of sophistication. Indeed the classic atmosphere, the unnerving set pieces, and the uneasy back-and-forth dialogue between the characters all manage to help this movie function wonderfully and that’s not even mentioning the twist conclusion which will feel like someone just gut punched you with a bag of bricks. Indeed suffice it to say then that for what it is, The Uninvited is a fun and well-done horror film that’s degree of sophistication is a concept that the majority of horror films in the here and now, with particular regard to thrillers slapped with the PG-13 rating, could honestly learn a thing or 2 about how to utilize. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Uninvited “09” a solid 3 out of 5.