Much blood, but too much torpor

Emily Browning is the teenager institutionalized after her mother's death; Jesse Moss is the boy she's fond of.
Emily Browning is the teenager institutionalized after her mother's death; Jesse Moss is the boy she's fond of.
Posted: January 30, 2009

A teenager's resistance to her father's new girlfriend provides the emotional underpinnings for The Uninvited, a spooky, if narcotic, psychological thriller adapted from a 2003 K-horror suspenser.

Rife with fingernails-on-chalkboard sound effects, scenes shot at disconcerting angles and buckets of blood oozing from keyholes and doors, The Uninvited stars Emily Browning (from Lemony Snicket) as Anna Rydell, a moody adolescent still reeling from the trauma of losing her mom.

Plagued by nightmares and a failed suicide attempt, she's been shunted off to an institution. But as directing siblings Charles and Thomas Guard begin their stylishly creepy film, Anna's psychiatrist suggests that it's finally OK for her to go home.

And home she goes, to a beautiful seven-gabled house perched atop a hill overlooking the Maine coast. Her father (David Strathairn) is a novelist, her older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), is a smartass, and Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) was the caregiver for Anna's ailing, now-dead mom.

Having redecorated the kitchen and sidled into bed with the widower Rydell, Rachel is now very much a part of Anna's home. And Anna, although she tries, can't quite make the adjustment.

Anna's sister, it seems, doesn't care for her either.

"She's like a crack whore, but without the dignity," quips Alex in one of The Uninvited's wittier moments.

With visual nods to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and a fairly faithful adherence to the tenor and tone of the Korean scare genre, The Uninvited doesn't startle and shock so much as it lulls you into a series of unsettling, hallucinogenic set pieces. Even the initally jarring presence of Banks - a mainstay of the Judd Apatow sex comedy machine - begins to become, well, uninteresting.

At a certain key point in the drama, The Sixth Sense might come to mind - but by then your mind could very well be on to other places, other ideas. There's not a whole lot beyond the pretty scenery (not really Maine, but the Pacific Northwest) and Browning's pop-eyed, fragile expression to keep you focused on the matters, and murder, at hand.


The Uninvited **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Charles Guard and Thomas Guard. With Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, David Strathairn and Elizabeth Banks. Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, horror, sex, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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