Four Weeks of Horror: The Uninvited

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02/03/2009 12:17 PM |

In which Jesse Hassenger concludes an experiment in which the movies studios release movies while they think critics aren’t looking.

National Horror Month comes to an end with The Uninvited, which offers relative class and restraint in a complete misreading of the January horror business plan. Actually, the movie’s deadliest restraint is in its timing: last one out of a four-horror month will typically make the least unless you’re dealing with a Saw movie, and so it went this weekend with the decidedly Jigsaw-free Uninvited.

Sporting by far the toniest cast of this year’s horror crop, The Uninvited follows young Anna (Emily Browning), returning home from a mental hospital following the death of her mother in a terrible accident. She commiserates with her older sister (Arielle Kebbel), clashes with her father (David Strathairn!), and eventually comes to believe that her father’s new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) may be a creepy murderess, aided by her dreams of Asian horror movies, er, ghostly children.

Browning, who played Violet in the Lemony Snicket movie, makes for a believably skeptical kid, and Banks is savvy at modulating the menace she allows to creep into her sunny gal-next-door façade. None of this is to say that The Uninvited, adapted from, yeah, a Korean film, is the spooky, well-made antidote to horror schlock. In fact, it’s not particularly spooky or particularly schlocky, neither a soulless PG-13 slog a la The Grudge nor likely to satisfy hard-R gorehounds. It’s a reasonably tasteful, well-acted horror movie that nonetheless doesn’t really work.

I will here issue a spoiler alert not because I plan to discuss the plot twist in particular (or because I imagine anyone would be aghast over my doing so) but because to be even faintly aware that there might be a plot twist is to give the average moviegoer enough of an alert to figure out what it is — so maybe the spoiler alert would be better placed up top, when I reveal that The Uninvited is a horror movie (the trailer does that, I guess, and performs an admirable job of light misdirection, moreso than the movie itself — as does the title by having little-to-nothing to do with anything that happens in the movie). I do not pride myself on the ability to beat movies to the punch, and I still called the first half of the twist during the first ten minutes, and the rest of it within half an hour.

To the movie’s credit, the plot turns are guessable because the movie more or less plays fair, at least as far as I can remember. Funny though, that the movie’s more logical, grounded approach doesn’t make the twist much more interesting or less hacky; it makes the whole movie sort of like studying for an IQ test.

So what are horror fans left with after the early-’09 bumper crop? It’s dispiriting to see how little one, two, four, or eight modern horror movies can add up to: One disposable gimmick slasher, one deeply silly (but highly enjoyable, at least) medieval werewolf fantasy, and, with The Unborn and The Uninvited, two failed straight-faced attempts at all-ages chills. Neither of those last two fit perfectly into the biggest horror bins of the day (speaking of which, the rest of the spring has remakes of Friday the 13th and Last House on the Left); they both just fall through the cracks, lacking the point of view — from which one can more readily derive things like dread or foreboding — of less widely seen horror pictures of recent years: Let the Right One In, May, or the more influential (though still less popular than, say, Saw IV) 28 Days Later. But hey, take a look at the 2010 release schedule: a U.S. remake of Let the Right One In is next year’s January fodder. In other words, be afraid.