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film / tv / politics / web / celeb

February 2, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | February 2, 2009 |

Hooray for Hollywood! Once again, they’ve managed to take a perfectly good Asian horror film, sanitize and Americanize it for our protection, just so that a bunch of tweeners can get a good scream on. Despite inept directing and a dreadful script, the film manages to float listlessly on the strength of forceable cleavage and some wasted performances by actors too talented to be in this awful remake of Ji-woon Kim’s Changwa, Hongryon (A Tale of Two Sisters). It’ll join The Eye, One Missed Call, and all the other completely forgettable re-packaging of re-chewed ideas. While it manages to be slightly better than the usual mediocrity, it comes off as an unimaginative Disney Channel spookfest with all the chills of a “Goosebumps” episode and all the suspenseful mystery of an Encyclopedia Brown paperback.

Maybe that’s not entirely fair. It’s PG-13 horror, so it relies entirely on loud sound effects and slimy things bursting out of dark corners. Had the Guard Brothers even attempted a little atmosphere, it might have been successful. Instead, they used zombie Von Trapp Family children and triple trade-offs — those amateurish horror movie shots where the editor switches quickly between a close-up of a doorknob then the actress’s face (75 percent of the time it’s a girl for the scream factor) THREE TIMES before the big scare. That, and trash bags seem to be their spook du jour, and I stopped trusting sacks of shit ever since Audition. There are a few good creepy moments — particular one literal spine-tingler — but otherwise it reminds me of the old Lois Duncan/Christopher Pike stuff I read when I was ten.

We’ve been down this road before. Anna (Emily Browning) returns home after some time spent in a mental institution after witnessing the death of her mother. She reunites with her older sister Alex (Arielle Krebbel) and her constant wardrobe of bikinis and skimpy sundresses. Their author father (David Strathairn) is getting his temperature taken nightly from her mother’s former caretaker Rachael (Elizabeth Banks). Anna continues to have horrible dreams about that night because she can’t seem to remember exactly what happened, and now she’s constantly seeing little red-headed Children of the Corn leftovers. Aren’t we done with spooky kids in movies yet? Hasn’t The Unborn finished the trend? I was going to give the Guards credit for not having the kids’ heads twist around or making them scream like cats. Instead, they don’t do anything. They’re just there as a fucking McGuffin. Hit someone with a baby monitor, sell me some girl scout cookies, tell me about Jesus! ANYTHING! But no, Anna can’t figure out why she’s seeing people deader than Haley Joel Osment’s career. They went for the twofer in the Hallmark disease pantheon — Mom’s got some kind of cancer, Anna’s got amnesia.

Naturally, the sisters suspect foul play from the creepy young thang Rachael, so they begin Scooby Doodling into her past. Lo and behold, the Garbage Pail Kids were stabbed to death by their mother’s nurse/their nanny who mysteriously disappeared. So, of course, Rachael’s out to clean house, black-widow Papa Bear, and get away with his tens and tens of authorly royalties. If Rachael was smart, she’d just knife them up and keep the gorgeous lakehouse. Unfortunately, the house is in Maine. And nothing — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — of any worth can be found in Maine. (Grrrr. — DR)

I had hopes of a What Lies Beneath-style film, with some genuine creepiness and some truly evil characters. Instead, The Uninvited relies solely on a preposterous twist. (I haven’t seen the original Korean film — I know, bad film critic, get thee to a Netflixery). You already know what the twist is. I figured it out before watching the movie. Had this film actually come out several years ago, when it was intended to, it might have been shocking. Unlike what some of my colleagues think, twist endings can still be effective if done properly. But in this, the twist just feels like “Well, duh.” It doesn’t capitalize on any of the performances, and instead comes off like a “Law and Order” stinger. Strangely enough, there were opportunities to be brutal and cruel and to create some sinister scenarios with any of the four principal characters. I’m talking some high-level Flowers in the Attic-type whatthefuckery. But they opt for the soft landing, which is truly to the film’s detriment.

The actors — all of whom have some horror movie background — do the best they can with the material. It took Two Schmucks, A Jew, and A Pizza Place to cobble this monstrosity: Rosenberg, Miro and Bernard, the latter two responsible for the forthcoming Prince of Persia, and thus my hope for that film bends and breaks like an upside-down horror dog. David Strathairn’s got nothing to do the entire film but look pensive and authorly, while looking striking in a beard. It’s like having James Earl Jones narrate a pop-up book. Elizabeth Banks, who was glorious in Slither, pulls off a halfway decent femme fatale, but she leans a little too heavily on the “We need to have a talk” eyebrow and serious face. It’s a little too mystery dinneresque — like she’s trying on purpose to be a red herring because she really wants the $25 gift certificate to the Olive Garden. Maybe I’M the KILLER, hmm, hmm, hmmmmm? Arielle Krebbel’s Alex was my favorite part of the movie, but that’s because a) she’s got the more interesting bitchy teen character and b) she makes me happy in the trousers. She’s a tad “Saved by the Bell” with a chili cheese side of “90210” to be pulling off teenager, but she’s got charisma and chemistry with her sister Emily Browning, who I only know as the perfect Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, continues her proud and shameful tradition of showing up in sub-par horror (following up Darkness Falls and Ghost Ship with a featured role here). She’s slightly more believable as a teen — sort of Screech to Krebbel’s A.C. Slater — but she spends most of the movie fishlipped and slackjawed. She’s about one or two awesome supporting roles from being ready to carry a film herself, especially when she’s up against Strathairn and Banks. She manages to put forward a credible Nancy Droopy, but when it gets into the serious sinister, she’s left in the cold in her underpants and nightshirt.

I only wish this came out on time and finally put the nail in the foreign horror remake coffin before they could attempt Let the Right One In. When placed against the entire horrible canon, even against horror remakes in general (I’m looking at you, Bay), it’s probably one of the tops. That doesn’t excuse it from being a muddled, amateurish, and dreary Boxcar Children ghost story. It’ll make a couple million at the box office, and then disappear back in the lake, where it won’t bother anyone again.

Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. When not traveling in and out of books to stay narrowly ahead of the pack of Cannonball Readers, he can be found on a Wii Fit staying narrowly ahead of a massive coronary infarction. He catches what floats down in the sewers of the comments section and burps it up for your amusement. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com. He steadfastly awaits the day when Mayor McCheese comes up for re-election so he can finally bust up the porkbellies of McTammany Hall.

The Uninvited / Brian Prisco

Film | February 2, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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