The Uninvited starts out well enough, with narration from the main character (Anna, played by Emily Browning of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) as she describes the events which led to her mother's death and her own trip to the mental health facility from which she is about to be released.
Returning home, she finds that her family has changed more than she had thought. Her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel, John Tucker Must Die) is frequently drunk and has a serious chip on her shoulder. Her writer father (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) seems completely in thrall to Rachel (Elizabeth Banks, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Role Models) the woman who used to nurse her mother during a long illness.
Almost immediately, the visions start, first in dreams, but then during waking hours, too--the ghost of her mother, like Hamlet's father pointing a bloody finger of murder, and three mysterious children who lead Anna to clues about what may have really happened the night her mother died.
Anna's sister Alex has had her own suspicions about Rachel's possible involvement in their mother's death, and she quickly takes Anna's side when she hears of her ghostly visitations. Together they attempt to track down more information about the former nurse now living in their house. When another body of someone who might have given them more clues turns up, it looks more and more like the next target in Rachel's methodical isolation of their father could be them.
The Uninvited is pretty solid all the way through. Good acting, strange and disturbing effects, an atmosphere of tension bubbling through the events as they unfold. We happily go along with some of the unresolved plot points, as the film seems to promise a wrap-up which will be thrilling, exciting and complete.
Without giving away the ending, this is not to be. As we reach the climax of the story, things start to go haywire, to get confusing. Characters don't react how we thought they would given what we know, or have been told we know. Weirdnesses creep in which don't add much to the overall film, indeed, which seem like mistakes or bad writing, but which make us suspicious that we've been had, and not in a good way. Not taken in, as in The Sixth Sense, but lied to.
And this does turn out to be the case. The investments in the characters and their realities turn out to be a sham, and the film largely falls down around itself.
There are some very good things about the film. It may convince you never to open a suspicious garbage bag. The garbage bag as nightmare symbol is very effectively done and enjoyable. The ghosts are creepy and credible as repetitive, mechanical messengers of doom. Elizabeth Banks plays Rachel right on the line, as either a murderous wicked stepmother-to-be or a frayed, well-wishing, put-upon new girlfriend. She's the chief pleasure of the film, even if her meddling is portrayed as too heavy-handed to be believed at times.
But the ending is too disjointed, too far-fetched, too contrived to be effective. The montage which turns the story around actually tells a disappointing story about how the film never pulled the wool over anybody's eyes, but kept them blindfolded for no real purpose. The audience leaves let down and confused, and rightfully so, some trying to piece together a puzzle out of what wasn't a puzzle at all.
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