Posted by Holly
Director: The Guard Brothers
The dreaded remake: the word alone makes most of us cringe. Often with good reason, as there have been a number of beloved horror classics that have been ripped apart in the process of trying to re-purpose them for a different audience. A film like A Tale of Two Sisters is rightfully one of the films lauded as a classic of the genre, and so the idea of an attempted remake of this gave me pause – would they be able to retain any of the qualities that set a film like that apart to begin with, or would it simply blend into being another tale of a generic horror remake?
The Uninvited seems to attempt to take a third option, which is to use the concept of the original film as a launching pad to create something different from the source material. Whether or not you find it successful in that attempt will depend on how much leeway you’re willing to extend to it, and how able you are to separate the concept from its origin.
The Uninvited focuses on Anna, a teenage girl who is finally being released from a psychiatric institution, following a suicide attempt mitigated by her mother’s untimely death in an accidental fire. Upon returning home, she is happy to reunite with her sister, and remains cordial with her father, but has an icy relationship with her father’s fiance, Rachel. While Rachel seems eager to mend their relationship at first, it soon becomes clear that there is something strange about her mysterious past. Between this and the increasingly strange and terrifying events surrounding Anna, she begins to suspect that not all is as it seems.
The worst thing you can possibly do when going into this movie is to expect it to be a remake of A Tale of Two Sisters. While that’s technically what it is, it will only leave you disappointed as it will raise your expectations beyond what this film can meet. The best way to watch this is with fresh eyes, and understanding it as a film that shares a basic skeletal plot line with its predecessor, but is otherwise a film that has a very different goal.
What this version does instead is both simplify and complicate the original story. The main elements are all still there: Anna is haunted by visions of her mother, has an antagonistic relationship with her would-be stepmother, Rachel, and confides in her sister about everything. The ending twist remains mostly the same (with a notable exception), though its context is quite different. This version creates an additional mystery to tack on to the plot, which creates several additional ghosts, an unsolved murder, and a mysterious past for Rachel. This strikes a contrast against the simplified emotional aspect of the plot; rather than being a story of guilt and seeking redemption, something that may never be resolved for its main character, this story instead becomes a far more streamlined vengeance tale, and one that does reach a form of resolution.
For its part, if you view it as only a vengeance story with a twist, then it’s a perfectly serviceable one; there is, however, not much more to it than that. And for fans of the original story, the lack of emotional complexity will be quite evident, and most likely a let down.
Rachel is an interesting piece of the story, but tricky to analyze in the context of this film. She’s certainly unpleasant in various points, and downright frightening in others – and if the film had ever established clarity on her motivations, that wouldn’t be so bad. As it stands, she becomes so unpleasant as to be cartoonish at points, which makes Anna’s suspicions about her feel quite believable. The problem is that Anna is an unreliable point of view, and her reality is colored by her pre existing biases; once her delusions are removed, Rachel’s actions make little sense. Rachel’s motivations for behaving the way she does are never clarified in the reality that the audience exists in, leaving a confusing void about whether or not some of her scenes even happened as we saw them, and if so, why they played out as they did.
Anna’s motivations, on the other hand, are clear, but they’re uncomfortable when examined closely. The inciting moment for this entire plot is Anna’s discovery of her father’s affair with Rachel. Her hatred of Rachel stems from this, but doesn’t necessarily extend to her father. While Anna seems perfectly fine with letting her father die in the crossfire initially, her focus becomes much more fine-tuned as time passes. Ultimately, she comes to blame Rachel exclusively for this affair, a choice that was clearly made by two participating parties. While the affair is perhaps morally wrong, the narrative presents Anna as vindicated in her need to slut shame Rachel to the point of violent comeuppance. It is a toxic attitude, and uncomfortable to see it unabashedly supported in the narrative.
This film has enough scares to feel decently eerie, enough twists and turns to keep it involving, and enough human drama to keep the story exciting, but something about it simply doesn’t fully gel together. All of the characters are challenging to like, so it becomes difficult to care about what happens to them. Some of the characters receive little to no characterization at all (Alex and the father), which presents the same problem. The scares aren’t focused, because the changed plot adds four additional ghosts, which causes the audience focus to slip towards understanding how they all fit into the story, rather than the dread we should feeling.
All criticism considered, I still wouldn’t say this is a bad film. It’s watchable, and it’s even enjoyable in the right context, but as a remake of some very heavy material, it performs poorly. That is the danger of remaking something without fully understanding its appeal. It’s possible that the filmmakers saw the original as nothing more than a popular Korean horror film with a twist ending, and that’s how they treated it. This is a horror film with a twist ending; it is not a tragic rumination on guilt and grief, and for that reason this film is unlikely to stay with you long after you finish watching it.
Rating: 3 out of 5. It doesn’t come anywhere near the original, but if you’re able to separate your thoughts from that, it’s decently watchable in its own way.
Violence level: There’s nothing too gruesome, but there are very violent moments. Several murders occur, either by explosion, stabbing, or breaking a character’s back. Only some of the deaths are shown outright.
Scariness level: This film didn’t do too bad of a job with the visions of the mother, which were creepy in their own right, especially the smaller touches, like the ringing of the bell. Some of the other ghost visions became too reliant on trying to surprise you, and were less effective for it.
Bechdel test: Anna and Alex speak often, often about their mother and step mother. If that doesn’t count enough, then Rachel and Anna also interact quite a lot together. This definitely earns a pass here.
Mako Mori test: Anna has a vengeance story that she follows through on, and most of it seems to hinge on her feelings about her mother’s death. However, so much of it is wrapped up in the slut shaming of her step mother’s behavior, and her relationship with her father, that this is a bit of a hollow “pass”.