It appears that The Uninvited is being marketed as a horror movie, but it doesn't seem to be quite sure what it is. Sure, there's some gore, and some "jump" moments where a hand shoots out to grab someone or a shadowy figure lunges at a character. But there are also stabs (no pun intended) at an old-fashioned family melodrama and at a supernatural thriller. Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to the potential of any of these genres.
The movie opens with a dream sequence from Anna (Emily Browning), about the night her mother died. When Anna related the dream to a doctor in the mental hospital where she's confined, he pronounces her well on the road to recovery and sends her home to her family. While she's happy to see her father (David Strathairn) and sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel), Anna immediately locks horns with Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), her father's fiancee. It seems that only about a year ago, Anna's mother was dying of some lingering disease and Rachael was her nurse ... and a mysterious fire killed Anna's mother. Anna can't remember what exactly happened on the night of the fire, and no one else seems to know. The suspense is focused on just how wicked Rachael might be, and what the two sisters can do to find out the truth. In addition, Anna has supernatural and gruesome dreams ... but maybe they're not dreams at all.
Unfortunately, one of the movie's big plot twists was evident to me within five minutes of Anna's return home. If you've seen the movie on which The Uninvited was based, A Tale of Two Sisters, you know what that plot twist is. I hadn't seen the South Korean film, but something about the way that certain characters were interacting gave me the idea. Maybe I've seen too many movies with that particular story element, because the people I sat with during the movie were entirely surprised.
Still, I don't think my realization of that particular plot element spoiled my enjoyment of the film. If anything, it heightened what little suspense there was, because I wondered when the other characters would figure it out, and whether -- well, I don't want to give it away. Let's just say that I could see a lot of interesting potential, and then when the climactic plot twist occurred at the end of the movie, I was disappointed. The big reveal felt like a cheat, to be honest. If you are going to do something like that, the preceding part of the movie has to make sense in relation to it. Otherwise, as with The Uninvited, it makes the movie feel like a big waste of time.
The cast of The Uninvited is good and I felt like I would have enjoyed watching them in a better scripted film. Elizabeth Banks can sail beautifully through dialogue written by Kevin Smith or David Wain, but her lines here are stilted and almost laughable. In one scene she comes within an inch of telling Anna that she sure has a purty mouth. Watching David Strathairn made me want to go home and put on one of his better movies to forget about his nearly wooden character in this one. And while Emily Browning gives Anna a range of emotion, the character is an enigma -- I couldn't even figure out how old she was supposed to be.
The Uninvited provides a few shocks and some creepy dream-or-not sequences that are perfect for a date horror movie. However, the structure and dialogue are weak without even being unabashedly cheesy fun like the 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine. Finally, the ending annoyed me so much that it nearly erased my memory of anything worthwhile earlier in the film. If you want to enjoy a more complex, better written film about a young woman returning home from a mental institution to deal with old and new family dynamics, go see Rachel Getting Married instead.