"The Uninvited" offers ironclad proof that Hollywood should give up the ghost already when it comes to remaking Asian horror movies. But really, how many ticket buyers in "The Uninvited's" targeted teen demographic know -- or care -- that it can't hold a flickering candle to the South Korean original, Kim Jee-woon's 2003 creep-fest, "A Tale of Two Sisters"?
Where Kim created a deeply unsettling vibe with a sinister house and a host of deeply unhinged characters, "The Uninvited" settles for a grab bag of horror-movie tropes (the heroine sees dead people -- and then some!).
Teenager Anna (Emily Browning) believes there's something evil in her house. And given that blood is seeping from keyholes and crows are feasting on dining-table leftovers, she could be on to something. Or she could be having a nightmare. Anna is prone to bad dreams and hallucinations. But that's not why she's in a mental institution when we first meet her. Anna tried to kill herself after her invalid mother died in a ghastly explosion at the family's home.
But now her psychiatrist is telling her that "maybe it's not such a bad thing to forget the past 10 months" and to "go home and finish what you started." When Anna returns, she discovers that Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), the sexy family nurse who was taking care of her bedridden mother, is now getting it on with her understandably distracted dad (David Strathairn).
"She's helping him cope -- three times a night," Anna's sarcastic older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), tells her.
But there are signs that Rachel might have other things on her mind. For starters, she gets a little too defensive whenever the events surrounding Mom's death are discussed. She's also a little too handy with a carving knife. Need more proof? Well, there's the fact that Mom (Maya Massar) keeps popping up around the house in one horribly disfigured form or another, screaming "Murderer!" while pointing at Rachel.
Without dwelling on the limited abilities of novice British filmmakers Tom and Charles Guard (a.k.a. the Guard Brothers) -- who seem to have divvied up duties here by having one sibling focus exclusively on close-up shots of doorknobs and the other oversee everything else -- the movie's fatal flaw is the undeveloped relationship between the two sisters.
In his film, Kim created an unbreakable bond that was central to the story's big revelation. When that twist arrives in "The Uninvited," it feels like a gimmick, nothing more. Thankfully, Banks throws herself into the stereotype with gusto, but the movie's source material invited a much more thoughtful interpretation.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: In general release