Marguerite Moreau, Brittany Curran, Colin Hay, Donna W. Scott
(IFC Festival Direct VOD; US theatrical: 15 Jul 2009 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 19 Jun 2009 (General release); 2008)
Sometimes, a horror film is its own worst enemy. While that may sound cliché, no other cinematic genre shoots itself in the foot as readily and as consistently as the so called scary movie. From a lack of atmosphere to a horribly lame monster, movie macabre just can’t keep from ruining its own reputation. While it could be the prevalence of paranormal narratives, or the lack of skill behind the lens, fans of fright have to take the abundant bad with the infrequent good just to get their gore/ghost groove on. A perfect example of this ideal is The Uninvited. While it tries to address terrors both psychological and real, it ends up doing nothing except confusing the bejesus out of everyone involved - audience and actors alike.
Lee suffers from a strange psychological malady. She’s afraid of space. No, not outer space, or the outdoors, like agoraphobics. Her issue is much different. She can’t tolerate the distant between herself and other objects. Afflicted since she was a child, she is seeking medical help for the condition. She’s also become the subject of a documentary by famed filmmaker Nick. A year passes, and the two marry. Lee is much better, living with few side effects from her previous problem. Then things start to slowly unravel.
A strange young woman arrives at their door one day. A shaken Nick brushes off any oddness. It’s just an old assistant, he argues, looking for her final paycheck. But when she’s left alone in the house one night, Lee starts to hear strange noises. It’s not long before her condition returns, as does the mystery girl. Gun in hand, she starts screaming for her baby. Lee has no idea what she’s talking about. Turns out, there is something sinister going on under our heroine’s nose - and she’s about to meet its horrific realities face-to-undead face.
There is nothing more frustrating than a horror film that cheats - and Bob Badway’s The Uninvited (not to be confused with the equally awful remake of A Tale of Two Sisters from January) is the cinematic version of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Rafael Palmiero all rolled into one. To call it illogical would be an insult to teenage girls everywhere. Socrates himself couldn’t rationalize this ridiculous, overly complicated mess. Clearly hoping to mine the same demonic territory that made Rosemary’s Baby a success, this failed first film instead ends up looking like a dumber Devil’s Rain. While the premise of “spatial phobia” has promise, and our actress Marguerite Moreau gives it a damn good try, specious storytelling destroys what little dread there is.
Part of the problem is the underlying conspiracy. Spoiler warning in place, we are supposed to believe that Lee’s loony husband Nick has decided to sell a baby to Satanists in order to become financially prosperous. He gets extra if the surrogate’s blood is also included in the deal. Now, we are never really told this out loud. Former Man at Work, Colin Hay, hints around via dialogue that seems lifted out of a misprinted copy of the script, with the audience required to fill in the blanks through inferences made several scenes earlier. Even worse, we never really know why Lee is singled out. Sure, her malady makes her an easy patsy, but there appears to be a no real method to all this human sacrifice and baby eating (you heard right - baby EATING). Badway would probably argue that vague adds to the tension. All it does is extend the already present tedium.
Because of its scattershot approach and lack of linear connections, The Uninvited can build up a decent head of suspense. Darkened rooms pass for atmosphere and random ambient cues (infant crying, guttural growls) try to tweak the angst. But since we don’t know what’s going on, who to care about, why we should empathize, and the final fatal endgame should hubby get his way, our interest wanes. Then Badway goes a step further and finds the single most annoying supporting character is any scary movie - a suicidal wench who’s hard up for cash and quite happy to pawn her infant to a group of Demonic cannibals. As she sweats and stammers, arguing with someone who clearly has no idea what she’s talking about, The Uninvited grows increasingly irritating. At some point, we keep rooting for the man-goat himself to show up and kick this child merchant in the manifolds.
There is however one thing that does work here, a visual symbol that suggests Badway could actually make a competent fright flick. Lee’s phobia began during a horrific run-in with a spectral image in her youth. In flashback and hallucination, we revisit this terrifying event. As the shot of a neighbor’s opening window exposes a darkened room, our heroine remembers the time when she saw an eerie old woman standing in the frame. Transfixed by the visage, the ghost’s gangrenous smile sends her over the edge. Every time Badway pulls this phantom out, it’s effective. Even when she becomes part of the gobbledygook action elements, our sinister spirit brings on the chills. Too bad the rest of the film is so lame. Another run through the word processor and this could have been a decent Satanic stomp.
As it stands, however, The Uninvited (sorry about that name Badway - you will be forever tied to and/or trumped by that Elizabeth Banks stinker as a result) is too messy to recommend, too tethered to a bunch of incongruous fear factors to do much except aggravate. For all his narrative incompetence, Badway certainly has a cinematic eye. The movie looks good, the frequent fantasy sequences showing a wonderful use of exteriors and color. And Ms. Moreau is not just phoning it in. She gives a fully realized, if factually confusing performance. As with many attempts at terror, we fright fans have to put up with a lot to get a little. In the case of The Uninvited, one’s tolerances are tested - and the results just don’t add up.