Release Date:  January 30, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking)
Genre:  Suspense, Horror, Remake
Run Time:  87 min.
Director:  Charles and Thomas Guard
Actors:  Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Massar, Jesse Moss

If it’s Super Bowl weekend, it must be time for a Hollywood remake of a wildly popular Asian horror film. Last January, we had The Eye, starring Jessica Alba in an American version of a successful horror film from the Pang brothers. Two years ago, it was The Messengers. Remember that one? That’s OK, neither do we. How ’bout The Boogeyman from 2005? Scary, but not in the way the filmmakers intended.

Now comes The Uninvited, a Dreamworks release based on a Korean blockbuster, but as with the other films mentioned, the qualities that struck a chord with audiences of the original version of the story haven’t translated well to the American remake. Chills are in short supply, and the lead character’s isolation and quiet desperation are poorly rendered.

Emily Browning stars as Anna, released from psychiatric care 10 months after the death of her mother (Maya Massar). Anna has blocked out the events of the night that led to her mother’s death, but her trauma over the death manifests in dreams and visions of corpses with messages from the grave. As she spends time reconnecting with her father (David Strathairn) and sister, pieces of that evening begin to come back to her. Was the fire that took her mother’s life an accident or was there something sinister about it?
Fueling Anna’s suspicions is the new woman in her father’s life. It’s a mere 10 months since the death of Anna’s mother, but Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), the mother’s former nurse, has moved in and appears to want daddy’s undivided attention. Only Anna and her sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel), stand in the way.

Sensing that Rachael has a secret past, the sisters team to expose her. Rachael’s ex-boyfriend (Jesse Moss) hints that he can provide crucial information about what happened the night Rachael’s mother died, but Anna and Alex worry that Rachael might take action to prevent the revelation. When the girls discover that Rachael fits the description of a child killer who’s still on the loose, they race to reveal Rachael’s history to their father before she can do him—or them—any harm.

Browning, who earlier starred in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, is still a young actress, trying to find her way on-screen. Her soft features give her an innocent quality that might induce audience empathy, but that connection is short-circuited by the film’s over-reliance on Anna’s horrified reaction shots to the dark visions that cloud her mind. Kebbel (The Grudge 2) is more than Browning’s equal, bringing a strong-willed intensity to her scenes. But The Uninvited is Banks’ (Role Models, W.) show. As the icy villain, Banks is by turns soft and sweet, concerned yet deceptive, and, like all wicked stepmother characters, a bit over the top at times. The film needs such moments to prevent it from becoming even more dreary than it often threatens to be.