PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Uninvited

This remake of the much better South Korean original just lumbers along like a Frankenstein’s monster that’s cobbled out of parts that never seem to work together.

The Uninvited

Director: The Guard Brothers
Cast: Emily Browning, Elisabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Arielle Kebbell
Distributor: Dreamworks
Rated: PG-13
Year: 2009
US DVD release date: 28 April 2009

This is always my main fear regarding American remakes of Asian horror films: that the remake will retroactively influence my appreciation of the original, to the latter’s detriment and my disappointment. It happens so often that I shouldn’t be surprised at this point – really, I should know better. But my curiosity always seems to override my initial instinct to steer clear, to my all too frequent regret.

And so here I am watching The Uninvited, a listless retread of a film I remember admiring quite a bit, South Korea’s A Tale of Two Sisters, from 2003. That film was a hypnotic gothic madhouse of directorial sleight of hand, all heavy atmosphere, herky jerky angles, and arch stylization.

A grim (ha!) fairy tale masquerading as Asian horror, a classical family tragedy nested in a blood soaked screamer, it was an elegant summation and final word on a subgenre that was finally exhausted on its native soil, even as it started to infect the rest of the world. I loved every crazy second of it, and all the more so because for most of its run time I could never figure out exactly what was going on, and even its final twists and revelations just exacerbated the confusion. Well played, all around.

By disentangling and flattening out the plot, and twists, of the original film – by trading in subtlety for blunt force obviousness – The Uninvited does little to justify its existence, missing the boat entirely on the source of the original’s power. Taken on its own, the new film is inoffensive, with a few hints of promise that are quickly squashed and squandered. No harm, no foul.

But then I started to wonder if The Uninvited’s sundry flaws exposed flaws that were actually there in A Tale of Two Sisters all along, inherent weaknesses that were only obfuscated by Ji-woon Kim’s superb direction. I really hoped not.

Then I started to wonder if I could – or should -- ever go back and watch the original again, and whether I would see it and enjoy it the way I did the first time. Then I started to wonder when I had become such an impressionable lightweight that I would allow a mostly forgettable remake by an American production team, using British directors, none of whom had actually even seen the original film before agreeing to make this (don’t believe me? It’s right there the bonus featurette on the DVD. Everyone cops to it, like it’s some point of pride), influence my opinion of a film I saw and liked five years ago.

Then I started to wonder why I spend so much time getting my dander up, over and over again, over Asian horror (J-horror, K-horror, whatever) and all the American remakes those films have spawned – why I spend so much time and energy all a-worry over a genre that I don’t even particularly like. And then I started to wonder why I’m putting you through all this pointless agonizing, dear gentle reader, and not staying on point and talking about the film actually in hand. Point taken.

So, I think we’ve established that The Uninvited is a remake. And though nominally true to the original, in execution it’s actually more along the lines of a retake, using the same basic story and framework as a point of reference, but going off in different directions – narratively, stylistically -- with it. The difference between the original and this remake is that The Uninvited has no idea what direction it wants to take, but just lumbers along like a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled out of parts that never seem to work together.

Though it revisits certain Asian horror tropes, they seems perfunctory and detached, inserted because of contractual obligation rather than necessity. It also dredges up bits from The Shining -- ghost children intoning certain doom to our heroine; a sprawling, isolated house full of ghouls and specters of the past and present -- to no discernible end. For awhile it seems to brush against the Grimm Brothers/fairy tale aspect -- again, an isolated house deep in the woods, on an island, along with an evil stepmother figure, and plenty of symbol heavy imagery -- that buoyed the original. And then it just shrugs off the trappings of horror and fairy tale altogether to turn into a thriller along the lines of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or The Stepfather, which is where it slowly starts to redeem itself before lapsing into Lifetime Movie territory, and then ends with two gimmicky twists nestled inside of one another that would only come as a genuine surprise to someone who’d never once seen a movie before in his/her life.

You still game? Well, if The Uninvited has any appeal (and it has a smidgen) it’s in the cast, which does its best with the material, and almost salvages things in the end. The problem is that each of the principals operates and acts as if in a totally different film from each other, which I guess dovetails nicely with the mishmash nature of the film itself, though it just makes the performances all the more jarring.

The otherworldly Emily Browning, who plays our young, tormented heroine, looks like she stepped straight out of fairy tale/fantasy film central casting (she seems a natural for this, as her only other notable role came in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). Her alabaster translucence, coupled with an understated tremulousness that always threatens to -- but never quite does -- break out into hysterics, lends her an amenable air of the innocent being led to the slaughter.

David Strathairn, ever a bulwark of calm intelligence, invests the father with enough gravitas to masquerade concern, but which conceals icky, Freudian sexual tensions which I might be wrong in reading into the film, but seems to reside there anyway, intentional or not, and indicates a more promising path for what the film might have been, if it had been braver, or seamier, or both.

But the ubiquitous Elisabeth Banks is the real star and draw of the show here, giving her all as the moustache-twirling wicked stepmother (well, if stepmothers had mustaches to twirl). Her screaming hysterics, when they come, are thankfully unrestrained, though the quiet menace with which she slinks in and out of the frame the rest of the time is perhaps more chilling. I wouldn’t say to see the movie just for the sake of seeing her in it, but it is a worthwhile point of comparison to be able to see her here when recalling about her superb, soulful portrayal of Laura Bush in last year’s W.

The Uninvited arrives on DVD shortly after its short theatrical run with scant extras. A 20-minute featurette, “Unlocking the Uninvited”, does little to unlock anything, really, especially the central mystery of why this unnecessary and uninspired remake was ever made. Interviews with the husband and wife producing duo Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald yield the aforementioned startling revelation that neither had actually seen the source material prior to greenlighting and backing the project.

Nor had the directors. Nor, apparently, had the screenwriters, if the final result is to be trusted. This bizarrely deliberate detachment from the source material is telling, and bears its mark all over the eventual product, like the film is some sorry, forgotten stepchild best relegated to the corner.

A handful of deleted scenes are really just extensions of scenes already in the finished film. They add a few nuances and hints, but not much else, just foreshadowing and telegraphing the final big twists more than necessary. An alternate ending is nearly identical to the one in the film, and adds nothing substantial to the final tally.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.