The genre films of 2009 have thus far been so pure (the kid's adventure Inkheart, the rom com New in Town, the action thriller Taken), that it's next to impossible to tell if they're made with loving sincerity or out of naked greed. Either way, they're so made to order it's hard to believe they won't eventually find an audience and make back what, for the most part, are humble budgets. Horror gets off easy there: stars are considered gravy, the real star being the genre itself. Except perhaps for the comic-book movie, horror is Hollywood's safest bet, but with new ideas scarce, studios have taken to snapping up product from a vast sea of South Korean offerings. And thus Ji-woon Kim's smash hit A Tale of Two Sisters gets "reimagined" as The Uninvited, the debut film of The Guard Brothers. But unlike the rest of the Class of '09 thus far, The Uninvited marches to an off-beat, and thank goodness for small favors.
As it turns out, Charles and Thomas Guard are two to watch. Though not particularly sophisticated or sensible, The Uninvited isn't a slasher picture, and it has more ambition than the usual j-horror nonsense full of ominous static and wraiths in dire need of a chiropractor. A couple of the latter turn up to haunt The Uninvited's protagonist, but in service of a greater scheme that also involves Freudian threats to domestic security. Anna Rydell (Emily Browning) has just won her release from a mental hospital, but her return to the scene of her mother's tragic death--an otherwise luxurious lake house--may prove short-lived. As Anna confides in her cynical sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel), visions of the dead have been appearing to warn Anna that "she's next" in line to be killed, perhaps by her mother's nurse Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), now the girls' stepmom. A bit too young and a bit too faux-friendly, Rachael is both a natural enemy to the girls and a prize to their father Steven (David Strathairn).
Figuring out if there's more than meets the eye here--or if the twist is that there is no twist--is part of the corny, drive-in-friendly fun of The Uninvited. Opening with a well photographed dream sequence that sets a tone of imbalance, the Guard Brothers demonstrate a knack for stylish surreality (blood seeping out of keyholes or magically replacing spilt milk) and shock sequences (as when a writhing mass of limbs crawls out of the shadows of Anna's room). The woods and waters of the isolated setting--and flashbacks to the explosive fire that claimed Anna's mother--add visual appeal. Browning is pretty much a zero, but her blankness actually helps to keep the story in suspended animation. The rest of the key players also serve the script well: Kebbel as the archetypal "wild child" sister, Strathairn as the ambiguous dad, and Banks, happily camping it up as a woman with a talent for creepy-awkward conversation.
Hitting Blu-ray day and date with the DVD release, The Uninvited comes with a sterling hi-def transfer that retains the film's theatrical look. Handling sun and shadow equally well, the image is detailed and accurate in its color rendering. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is immersive in its wraparound effects, which definitely ups the scare quotient.
Special features are humble, but provide a nice look behind the curtain, especially for those wondering just who the Guard Brothers are. "Unlocking The Uninvited" (19:00, HD) is a standard making-of featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes, directors Thomas Guard and Charles Guard, screenwriter Craig Rosenberg, Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, production designer Andrew Menzies
Also included are four "Deleted Scenes" (5:36, HD) and an "Alternate Ending" (:50, HD). It's great to see Paramount's ongoing commitment to producing its new bonus features in HD.
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