I guess the titles The Uninspired and The Uninvolving were considered too honest, but they would’ve certainly provided a more accurate description of the Guard Brothers’ The Uninvited. Oh, the movie is fairly competently made and occasionally even atmospheric, I’ll give the Guard boys that. And as far as sibling filmmakers go, I’d even say that while neither the Coens nor the Wachowskis are at risk, the Pang Brothers had better look to their laurels. But overall this is one of those movies that’s not bad enough to be funny, and yet not good enough to be actually good. It’s passable if seen with an audience of teenage girls, who shriek right on cue at every shock effect. Even then, there’s an awful lot of dead air in between the shrieks.
The film starts with what is obviously a dream sequence (that you’re obviously not supposed to know is a dream sequence) involving our heroine Anna Rydell (Emily Browning, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). In the sequence, Anna refuses an offer of intercourse from hunky Matt (Jesse Moss, Final Destination 3) and runs into scary woods where she encounters scary things. She makes it to her house where she also encounters creepy things. All this turns out to be a symbol-laden nightmare she’s telling her sympathetic shrink Dr. Silberling (TV actor Dean Paul Gibson), who offers a nicely vague movie-psychiatry explanation—complete with expository dialogue about her invalid mother’s fiery death and Anna’s current stint in a sanatorium—before telling her he’s sending her home.
Following a meeting—that (correctly) feels like a setup—with an über creepy fellow inmate (“Who will I tell my stories to?”), Anna takes leave of the sanatorium with her father, Steve (a slumming David Strathairn), in hopes of a happy homecoming. Alas, Dad has taken up with Rachael Summers (Elizabeth Banks, demonstrating the career sense of Rebecca De Mornay), the biologically accommodating former nurse of Anna’s late mother (TV actress Maya Massar). This sits none too well with Anna, and plays even worse with her smart-aleck, hard-drinking sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel, The Grudge 2), who turns into Anna’s confidante on everything that’s going on.
And what is going on? Spooky shenanigans, that’s what. All manner of supernatural things are happening at the Rydell home—including Mom’s charred corpse claiming that her death was, in fact, murder and, if you haven’t already guessed, that Rachael is the responsible party. The question then becomes how to prove it—an idea that’s severely hampered by the mysterious death of the one possible witness (hunky Matt), Anna’s penchant for seeing visions of a trio of creepy dead kids (that’s one up on The Shining—take that, Kubrick!) and an array of “gotcha” shock effects. And, of course, Dad is so sex-struck that he will hear nothing against Rachael. All of this is leading to one of those convenient absences for Dad (didn’t we just see this in The Unborn?), a somewhat surprisingly sanguinary climax (for the PG-13 rating) and a twist ending that would make M. Night Shyamalan blush with shame.
But what The Uninvited suffers the most from is its desire to be more than just another horror picture. As an idea that’s perhaps laudable, but the screenplay and the execution fall short of any such idea. The film telegraphs its desire to be “more” all too often by indulging long stretches where nothing much happens. It sets up its “surprise” ending too clearly, has to bluff a bit to get to that ending, and is apt to leave the viewer feeling cheated in the bargain. The heavy reliance on shock effects doesn’t help make a case for the “more” either, but instead comes across as “This is the best they could think of?” The best I can think of is another trip to My Bloody Valentine 3-D. At least, the 3-D is cool in that. Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking.