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The Uninvited DVD Review

The Uninvited (2009) movie poster The Uninvited

Theatrical Release: January 30, 2009 / Running Time: 87 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: The Guard Brothers (Charles Guard, Thomas Guard) / Writers: Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard (screenplay), Kim Jee-Woon (original film Changhwa, Hongryon)

Cast: Emily Browning (Anna Ivers), Elizabeth Banks (Rachel Summers), Arielle Kebbel (Alex Ivers), David Strathairn (Steven Ivers), Maya Massar (Mom), Kevin McNulty (Sheriff Emery), Jesse Moss (Matt), Dean Paul Gibson (Dr. Silberling), Don S. Davis (Mr. Henson), Lex Burnham (Iris Wright), Matthew Bristol (David Wright), Danny Bristol (Samuel Wright), Heather Doerksen (Mildred Kemp)

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Depeche Mode just couldn't get enough. Smash Mouth couldn't get enough of you, baby. And now, it seems that Hollywood just can't get enough American remakes of Asian horror films.
The industry seems all too willing to overlook that none of the efforts have managed to recreate the critical and financial impact of The Ring, the surprise 2002 blockbuster responsible for the trend. Although studios' English versions of Dark Water, The Eye, Shutter, and Mirrors have come and gone without making much of a mark on the world, the class continues to grow.

The Uninvited adapts the 2003 South Korean film Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters) and, as theatrical and home video key art emphasizes, it comes from producers of The Ring. The films actually have four producers in common, two of whom (Doug Davison and Roy Lee) have had a hand in nearly every Asian-American horror translation. It'd be hypocritical to fault the team for a lack of originality when seemingly every other new entry to the horror genre can be traced back to an American hit.

Anna Ivers (Emily Browning) has her diner drink time disturbed by a visit from one of the ghostly figures she has been seeing. Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks) gives Anna a welcome home hug. Is Rachel a cheery former caretaker, an evil stepmother figure, or both? Watch and find out.

The Uninvited centers on Anna (Emily Browning of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), a teenaged girl haunted by the recent death of her mother. After a failed suicide attempt and ten months in a mental hospital, Anna returns home to the stately lakeside mansion of her author father Steven (David Strathairn). Neither Anna nor her wilder, slightly older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is pleased that Dad has swiftly rebounded. But he has, letting Mom's former nurse, the young and pretty Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), move in, redecorate, and assume motherly and loverly duties.

While that might be reason enough for Anna and Alex to dislike Rachel, the sisters also have their suspicions that Rachel in fact was responsible for their mother's fiery end, until now deemed accidental. Supporting such hunches are some startling, ghostly visits Anna receives that are too real to be delusional. The girls seek to dig up dirt on father's new mate, seizing small hints that suggest a dark past lies beyond Rachel's pleasant exterior.

As a mystery, The Uninvited seems pretty clear-cut. But the strong performances and tactful slow boil technique by England's The Guard Brothers (making their feature debut) render the proceedings fairly compelling as a kind of contemporary Bobbsey Twins tale. The supernatural element that's apparently a prerequisite for any Asian horror film worth remaking actually stands as a hindrance for much of the time. Jarring moments of weirdness seem tossed in to remind us to classify this as horror, not suspense or plain drama. Ultimately, though, they provide a touch of intrigue and some degree of plot advancement.

Sisters and best friends Anna (Emily Browning) and Alex (Arielle Kebbel) hear their father's girlfriend near the bathtub in which they converse. Though Steven (David Strathairn) appears to be an understanding father, the girls are unwilling to report their findings to either him or local law enforcement. That helps draw out the story to a reasonable feature-length runtime.

But it is really a twist ending that saves the film. Knowing that this genre, particularly the Asian import class, is so fond of climactic surprises means I should have been guessing and figuring out just what was going to unfold to make this straightforward, teen-friendly movie have more than meets the eyes.
But neither experience nor the DVD cover's quote claiming a "shocker of an ending" had me anticipating the re-evaluation-prompting revelation. It is a genuine accomplishment that The Uninvited came up with an unforeseen major turn that appears to hold up sturdily to examination. Not everyone will be blindsided or impressed by the final act, but I feel it manages to both reward and topple those earnestly investing (many of whom may be otherwise underwhelmed).

Despite its repeat business potential, The Uninvited didn't reinvigorate the Asian horror remake class. Its $28.6 million domestic earnings were in line with most of its modestly-performing kin and a far cry from the highs of The Ring and The Grudge. In other words, don't expect a sequel. You can, however, expect to find The Uninvited being sold on DVD and Blu-ray at a store near you. It came to disc this week, just under three months after opening in theaters.

Buy The Uninvited on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.98)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Uninvited was framed for 1.85:1 exhibition and so this widescreen DVD makes use of every available pixel. It's an adequate transfer. There are no issues of concern, but also few dazzling visuals to admire. Inevitably, there are a number of dark scenes; some of these are very dark and not always coherent. Without making too strong of an impression apart from a climactic excess of bass and the odd shrill jolt, the Dolby 5.1 track satisfies with a fine use of atmosphere and ambience.

Curly-haired sibling Brits Thomas and Charles Guard make their feature debut after years of directing shorts and commercials. They chat about the film in "Unlocking the Uninvited." Anna (Emily Browning) confides something about the fateful fire night to her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel), whose bikini-clad chest seems focal in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

"Unlocking the Uninvited" (18:55) gives us an overview of the film's making with the standard blend of clips and interview comments.
Among the topics addressed by the featured producers, writers, directors, and actors are the project's origins, the off-camera brothers and onscreen sisters, the filming location, the design, and the big twist. The makers of the Korean original film must be thrilled to hear their work disparaged here.

Four deleted scenes (5:38) provide additional story material or clarify plot points with varying degrees of success. As inconsequential is an alternate ending (0:50) that makes little sense. For unclear reasons, all of the unused footage appears in a wider aspect ratio that's closer to 2.35:1.

Before the menu loads, trailers play for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, Michael Bay's inevitably noisy sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Van Wilder: Freshman Year. The same three ads play via the final extras listing "Previews."

The static menus employ steely imagery, while atmospheric score accompanies the main screen that replicates the poster/DVD cover art.

Anna (Emily Browning) cautiously prepares to call out a characteristically pleasant Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). It wouldn't be Asian-imported horror without some strange, surreal shots like this.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Uninvited isn't a great film. Some will find it plodding and obvious; others may be turned off by the largely pointless random thrills. But solid acting, sensible direction, and -- most of all -- an unexpected conclusion go some ways to help the viewer appreciate the movie, which is clearly a few notches above many fellow Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films. The standard DVD wouldn't earn a recommendation until it hits bargain bin prices (probably not too distant), but the movie is worth seeing especially for those who prefer suspense and psychology to gore.

Buy The Uninvited from Amazon.com: DVD / Blu-ray / Original A Tale of Two Sisters on DVD

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Reviewed April 29, 2009.



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