The Uninvited


Rating 2¾

Directed by the Guard Brothers (Charles Guard and Thomas Guard)

Written by Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, based on the film ‘Janghwa, Hongryeon’ written by Ji-woon Kim

Starring Emily Browning (Anna Rydell), Arielle Kebbel (Alex Rydell), Elizabeth Banks (Rachel Somers), David Strathairn (Steven Rydell), Maya Massar (Lillian Rydell), Jesse Moss (Matt), Dean Paul Gibson (Dr Siberling), Heather Doerksen (Mildred Kemp), Lex Burnham (Iris Wright) and Kevin McNulty (Sheriff Emery)

Anna Rydell has been confined in a psychiatric hospital, suffering from a psychological breakdown, since the death of her mother Lillian in an explosion ten months earlier. Her mother had been suffering from a serious illness that left her bed-ridden. She is told by her psychiatrist that her treatment has been taken as far as it can go and she can now return home. She is collected by her novelist father, Steven, and driven back to the idyllic family home, set on a hill above the coastline. Ecstatic to be reunited with her older sister Alex, she is much less happy to see Rachel Somers, who had been her mother’s nurse, but is now living with her father. Anna and Alex are convinced that Rachel was responsible for their mother’s death and now intends to get rid of them as well. Anna also has dreams about a young girl and starts to have hallucinations, in which she believes the child is trying to tell her something about Rachel’s past.


‘The Uninvited’ is a 2009 psychological horror film from DreamWorks, the American film studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Based on the acclaimed 2003 South Korean film ‘Janghwa, Hongryeon’ (A Tale of Two Sisters), the rights were bought by the English directing team the Guard Brothers (Charles and Thomas), who had been part of the Footlights dramatic society when studying at Cambridge and were previously best known for directing television and film commercials.

This is a horror film in the style of ‘What Lies Beneath’ and ‘Hide and Seek’ and is not specifically targeted at the usual teenage horror film market. The cast includes the respected veteran character actor David Strathairn, who was Academy Award-nominated for his lead role in the 2005 George Clooney-directed ‘Good Night and Good Luck’. Elizabeth Banks has established a very successful film career over the last ten years and I have been impressed by Arielle Kebbel in various films, irrespective of the quality of those films. She is a likeable actress with some genuine degree of screen presence. I had previously seen the elfin 20-year-old Australian actress Emily Browning as a young teenager in the films ‘Ghost Ship’ and ‘Darkness Falls’.

I do like psychological thrillers of this type and this is a reasonably good one, although not without its flaws. The Elizabeth Banks character is intended to be ambiguous. Is she a gold digger? Is she the archetypical evil step-mother? If she is either of these things, does that necessarily mean that she is a killer? Did she really cause the explosion that killed Lillian Rydell? This is tried and tested territory, but I could not help but think that Rachel quickly becomes far too two-dimensional. She is a one-note character and the ambiguity is soon lost. To a degree this plays to the advantage of the inevitable twist in the story, but it still feels somewhat heavy-handed. Banks has stated that she based her performance on that of Rebecca De Mornay in the 1992 film ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’. This is fine, but Peyton Flanders, the character played by De Mornay in that film, is clearly unhinged, whereas we are supposed to be uncertain about Rachel.

These criticisms aside, I did enjoy the film, although perhaps more for the cast than for its overall quality. The film does have the obviously glossy look of top quality production values, but it is quite formulaic and there is certainly no new ground broken here, although it moves along at a nice pace. It rather put me in mind of the direct-to-DVD 2006 film ‘Ring Around the Rosie’, which itself was clearly influenced by Japanese and South Korean horror films.

‘The Uninvited’ has a 31% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 131 reviews. Irrespective of whether or not the generally negative reviews are warranted, there is no doubt that it suffers by being compared to the highly praised South Korean original, which has an 87% fresh rating from 52 reviews. The American remake performed with mediocre (although not desperately poor) results at the box office and has a worldwide gross a little under $38 million.

Review posted 17 July 2009


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