At The Picture Show
Anatomy of a twist
'The Uninvited' plows to an inevitable nowhere
Director: Charles Guard and Thomas Guard
Screenplay: Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, based on a 2003
screenplay by Ji-woon Kim
Starring: Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Arielle Kebbel,
Jesse Moss and Maya Massar
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 27 minutes
(out of four)
Warning: Non-specific spoilers
The effectiveness of the Twist Ending, as I see it, requires that it does not exist for
its own sake.
What it can do is explain that which we think we know, but we don't (Chinatown,
Unbreakable). It can be a revelation seen through the eyes of one character,
through whose eyes we have seen everything (Fight Club, The Sixth Sense). It can
be the unraveling of a mystery that we know, from the start, that we do not fully
understand (Oldboy, several episodes of LOST).
It can't completely betray and undermine
everything that has come beforehand (Flightplan). It can't be completely, utterly
and laughably absurd (The Village). It can't make absolutely no sense whatsoever
(High Tension). It cannot - I repeat, cannot - all be a dream. And let's not even
get started on the St. Elsewhere paradigm.
Finally, it can't be used exclusively as an out - otherwise anything goes and it's all
arbitrary, a story that may (or may not) have been compelling all on its own is
reduced to nothing more than shock value.
I'll stop short of saying that The Uninvited was a compelling story on its own - it
wasn't. But then, maybe that's partly because it always felt like we were leading
inexorably to some cheap twist, bracing ourselves for the rug beneath our feet to
get that one inevitable tug.
And the big tug does come, of course - followed by the almost-as-annoying
smaller twist that, you know, doesn't add any perspective to the film at all but
thinks it does. It's not just that the twist in The Uninvited is expected - it's that it
serves no narrative purpose. Something turns out to be different than we thought it
was. We are shocked. Big deal. Further cheapening things is the fact that the
entire rest of the film is predicated upon certain things that completely unravel
when the twist is revealed.
Yes, the events are all explored through the point
of view of a single character - certainly more admirable than the methods of a few
other movies I could mention - but once we see the full picture, little else in the
movie makes sense. Not to mention that the twist in and of itself is simply a
variation on something we've seen hundreds of times before.
When all is said and done, are we enlightened? Not really. And we weren't really
tricked, either. Just bored.
I admire Elizabeth Banks for taking on such a sinister role, playing the dreaded
"new girlfriend" after Mom passed away. She's shown her comic versatility in The
40-Year-Old Virgin and Slither and TV shows like Scrubs and Stella, and she's
shown her warm, relatable side in Invincible and Role Models. But this, the evil
stepmom-type, is a bit of a transition.
It's just too bad she chose this particular project to try something new.
Naturally, she plays second fiddle to the two daughters who are having so much
trouble adapting to her - Anna (Emily Browning), who had a nervous breakdown
when her mother died in an explosion; and Alex (Arielle Kebbel), who is less
interesting mainly because the performance is so awful.
The sisters both have their suspicions about their
mother's untimely death - and since Rachael (Banks) was her nurse, a conspiracy
soon comes into focus, much to the chagrin of Dad (David Strathairn), who is too
smitten to see all the tell-tale signs. Smitten!
Ultimately, none of it matters, given the way the filmmakers choose to resolve the
story. The Uninvited is based on the South Korean film, A Tale of Two Sisters,
which I've been meaning to see for quite a while now and haven't yet gotten
around to. I'm not sure whether or not the ending is the same in both versions, but
I hope not - I wouldn't want to waste 90 minutes twice.
Read more by Chris Bellamy