Title: The Uninvited
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Charles Guard), Thomas Guard
Screenwriters: Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro
Starring: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks
For a while, The Uninvited threatens to give PG-13 horror flicks a good name. For a while — indeed, for over an hour of its 87-minute running time — the film demonstrates what can be done when an actual story and good actors (instead of a random collection of bloodless shock effects as in, say, The Unborn) substitute for the R-rated rough stuff. At times, astonishingly, it even seems more concerned with developing a plausible portrait of a wounded family than with ghosts, or murderous nannies, or corpses in trash bags.
Don’t get me wrong: The Uninvited never pretends to be anything other than a horror film in the classic ghost story vein. Every five minutes or so, it reminds us that something sinister’s afoot: a glass of milk shatters and turns into blood; the ghost of a little girl pops out from under a kitchen cabinet and hoarsely screams “you’re next!” In one legitimately frightening scene — a perfectly calibrated blend of movement and shadow — something crawls out of the corner of our plucky heroine’s bedroom and makes for her bed.
But even as this occasionally effective booga-wooga stuff is going on, The Uninvited tries hard to imbue the proceedings with real sorrow, to create at least a recognizable sketch of a family being torn apart by grief. Not for nothing did the Guard brothers, making their feature debut, hire expert character actor David Strathairn to play the recent widower who wastes no time shacking up with his late wife’s much younger nurse. And not for nothing is the nurse played by Elizabeth Banks, who tweaks her normally cheery demeanor ever so slightly to suggest that something’s not quite as it seems. These are actors who are capable of portraying real human beings, and the film gives them room to do so. It allows for silences, for little moments that aren’t strictly necessary to the story. It’s frankly impressive – and a joy for this fan of thoughtful, nuanced horror.
Up to and just past the one-hour mark, my admiration for the movie only increased. There’s one moment, after a dramatic climax involving one of the characters incapacitated and at the mercy of the villain, when my heart leapt in my chest as it appeared that The Uninvited was going to go in a truly daring direction: call our bluff and assign real consequences to something that would ordinarily draw only cheers from the typical horror crowd.
And then… And then.
Then the movie busts out a surprise ending that’s the equivalent of a punch in the mouth. I will admit that I didn’t guess it — though perhaps I should have — because my faculties were overcome by wishful thinking: I found The Uninvited’s apparent direction far more interesting than the hairpin turn of its last ten minutes. But the problem is bigger than that: what the film offers is what I’ve started referring to as The Ending — a stock twist any acolyte of the genre has seen a dozen times, perhaps more. Indeed, it’s present in a film that was released just a couple of weeks ago.
In the end, then, The Uninvited is most remarkable for going from terrific to lame in record time. It is effective and relatively thoughtful for much of its length, and I hope it holds its own commercially against the glut of dumb-as-a-rock horror offerings that tend to take off and spawn even dumber offspring. But it squanders 70 strong minutes with a pointless gotcha that I don’t think anyone will much appreciate.