Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2009

Anatomy of a twist

'The Uninvited' plows to an inevitable nowhere

The Uninvited
DreamWorks Pictures
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


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