Oh, for some kick-ass movie ghosts. I’m talking kick-ass on a Dickensian level. The spectres of three sad-faced little kids — a redhaired girl and, we presume, her two younger brothers — wander around The Uninvited, making moon-faces at poor Anna, who’s just returned home from a psychiatric facility and is not coping well with her reemergence into real life. What the little monsters are up to is a mystery for a long time, but long before the ultimately nonsensical reveal, I finally realized who those kids are. They were merely waiting for a stern Ghost of Horror Movies Present to come out and address the filmmakers: “This boy is Plot,” he might say to screenwriters Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset), Doug Miro (The Great Raid), and Carlo Bernard (The Great Raid), his hand kindly on the head one of the little wretches. “This boy is Character,” he might say to newcomer brother directors Thomas and Charles Guard, gently soothing another of the moppets. “This girl is Coherence,” he might say to all of them. “Why have you forsaken them?”
In its wild stupidity, The Uninvited renders itself almost discussion-proof. I would not reveal its secrets, slender and ridiculous as they are, yet the very absurdity of those secrets is a huge chunk of the awful that weighs it down like Marley’s chains. The brothers Guard telegraph almost everything they’re about to try to scare you with: the usual stuff-jumping-out-at-you or stuff-making-a-sudden noise that’s not in the least bit terrifying. (Empty clothes hangers rattling in a closet? Guys: c’mon. Show us a little respect.) And everything they don’t telegraph they have to cheat at in order to “surprise” you later. I really honestly don’t want to spoil anything, even though this tripe deserves to be spoiled, but it’s as if the film is trying to pull off something on the level of “Darth Vader is Luke’s father” without bothering to lay down any of the archetypal and mythic foundations required to make such a thing resonate.
And the completely asinine thing is, the 2003 Korean horror movie this is adapted from — Janghwa, Hongryeon, transliterated into English as A Tale of Two Sisters — was awash in fairy-tale significance. Which you almost have to go way the hell out of your way to avoid, when you’re dealing with a story about an evil stepmother. For that is what teenage Anna (Emily Browning: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Ned Kelly) is dealing with. She gets home from the mental hospital where she’s spent the last 10 months getting over the sudden, violent death of her mother only to find that her father (David Strathairn: The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Bourne Ultimatum) is shacked up with her mother’s former nurse, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks: Role Models, W.). And Rachel has totally taken over the house: repainting the kitchen, hiding away in the attic all the “old things” — you know, the ones from 10 months ago — and of course loudly fucking Dad every night. Anna’s slightly older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) fills Anna in with all the details, but basically: It’s evil stepmother time. Cuz, oh yeah, Dad’s gonna marry the bitch.
But it’s like Korean Horror for Dummies. Everything that was rich and potent and genuinely disturbing about Janghwa, Hongryeon has been eliminated here… and you don’t need to have seen that 2003 film to feel that something is deeply wrong here. Anna’s journey from mental instability to something looking like wellness and back — maybe — to mental instability, as she and Alex decide that Rachel was responsible for Mom’s death and now is trying to get the daughters of the way, too, is psychologically presposterous. The plot, such as it is, relies on absurd coincidence and people not saying things they would be expected to say. When you’re trying to convince someone of something — like, say, that your Dad’s new girlfriend is a psycho killer — you play your strongest card, like the actual fact-based evidence you have. Except The Uninvited has determined that it cannot do that lest it give up something too soon, yet it has no logical substitute for it, either. So, actually, even when it’s not telegraphing its secrets, it kinda is, anyway, in its helplessness to hide that it’s cheating.
I cordially invite you to uninvite The Uninvited from your movie brain. It’s a dull excuse for a party… or for a ghost story.