A few years back, A Tale of Two Sisters was a profoundly creepy and visually lush Korean horror gem so good that it was doomed to get the inevitable American bastardization. While it can't hold a flickering candle to the original, The Uninvited does squeeze some mild thrills out of the premise, and offers slightly more brain food than the average rampaging-madman-with-a-power-tool fare.
The story's your basic wicked stepmother, obsessed stalker scenario set within a haunted house, and layered with some psychopathic episodes, detective work, identity confusion and heavy doses of teen angst.
Emily Browning stars as the gamine Anna, newly released from the psych ward and trying to adjust to being back in her family's tony New England beach house. Dad (David Strathairn) is a successful author, now shacked up with Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), the pretty young nurse who Anna suspects had a hand in her ill mother's "accidental" death. Of course, it's not just a hunch, since ghosts keep popping out of the shadows to spell out the problem for her. Anna is still coltish and shy, but her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is in full-on rebellious-bitch mode, and begins taking steps to oust the blond interloper who has roosted in their once cozy nest.
Where the previous film used clever art direction to create a seductively sinister mood, the new one is all studio cardboard and telegraphed shocks, but skates by on the ability of its performers to sell the occasionally silly material. Comedy "it girl" Elizabeth Banks goes way off model as the unhinged Rachel, and she does a pretty credible spin on the old Rebecca De Mornay "loon in the house" routine. The younger girls are also solid, and the pillow-lipped Browning manages the trick of being winsome but slyly intense. While the Brit directing team has a firm hand on suspense, it is somewhat less successful at nailing the bigger themes — the fear of growing up, of relinquishing childish things and confronting a new reality — and they sidestep the overtly menstrual metaphors of the original. The tension holds for a while, but eventually the film retreats to the logic-deprived universe from which all horror films emanate, and hits us with a twist ending either too easy to predict or too clever by half.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.