Something happened the night Anna's mother died. Something terrible. The teenager can't remember what it was, but she had a mental breakdown because of it and tried to take her own life.
After 10 months in a sanitarium, though, Anna's psychiatrist believes that the young girl can once again get back to her life. Her memories of that night have only come back in snippets and dreams, but the doctor is satisfied that she'll be OK.
Anna excitedly returns home. But things aren't as "OK" as she'd hoped they'd be. First of all, her mother's former nurse, Rachael, has become romantically involved with her father. Dad's emotional (and physical) attachment to another woman so soon after their mother's death is devastating for both Anna and her older sister, Alex, who snarls out that the pretty young nurse has been helping their dad cope ... "three times a night."
Worse than that, Anna starts to have mysterious and creepy visions of her dead mother and a trio of strange, scary children who all seem to be suggesting that Rachael is not who she says she is. She's someone (something) much more deadly. But can a teen girl just out of a sanitarium get anyone to believe in ghostly warnings?
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
At first blush, Anna appears to be a really good kid who has had a great deal of pain thrust upon her. She's very protective of her family and its traditions. She loves her dad and sister, and she goes to great lengths to protect them. And when a boyfriend makes inappropriate moves physically, she walks away. Her father, Steven, is a loving dad.
Later in the film, however, we learn that neither Anna nor her dad are the upright people we first thought they were. And while there are a few positive lessons even in those revelations, they do undermine much of what's seemed positive up until they emerge. (More in "Other Negative Elements.")
Anna receives a number of ghostly (and grotesque) visitations from her dead mother, a dead boyfriend and three dead children. She attends a funeral that is presided over by a priest who makes several references to the Lord as an ever-present protector and savior. He also quotes from Psalm 27.
In Anna's eyes, Rachael is an oversexed gold digger who is sleeping with her dad while trying to upend her happy home. The first time we see the former nurse she's wearing a very low-cut exercise top and form-fitting pants. Throughout the film, the woman continues to wear clothing that exposes a great deal of skin. Through her bedroom wall, Anna hears Rachael and Steven having sex. In a flashback scene we see her peek through a keyhole, catching a glimpse of the pair in the act (while clothed). Steven and Rachael snuggle together on the living room couch and kiss briefly. Anna and Alex rifle through Rachael's clothes drawer and hold up nearly transparent negligees and a vibrator.
Alex wears some revealing outfits, as well. A brief bikini is her most common mode of dress. Anna wears tank tops (one time that's all she wears) for sleepwear. She wears a low-cut dress. Rachael takes off a drugged Anna's clothes, letting the camera see her (briefly) in a skimpy bra and panties.
Anna and her boyfriend kiss and cuddle. But when he tells her he loves her and awkwardly mentions that he has a condom, she pushes him away. He climbs in through her window and removes his wet shirt.
Even though a lot of intense and violent things take place in the course of The Uninvited, we don't really see any of it actually perpetrated. That doesn't, however, lessen the impact of the aftereffects.
For instance, in a dream-like vision Anna stumbles upon three plastic bags in the woods. One of them falls over and several limbs and a girl's head tumble part way out. The head turns on creaking and cracking bones to gaze at Anna. In another scene we see a bloody trail that leads Anna to a dumpster. Opening the lid, she discovers a blood-spattered corpse. In yet another creepy moment, Anna's fire-charred, scabrous (dead) mother crawls across the floor toward a cowering Anna and then creaks her way into an upright position and reaches out her hand with a scream.
While bloodless, one of the more vivid scenes involves Anna reaching to comfort someone. She runs her hand down his back to find a crushed, twisted and bulging spine. She backs away in horror as the young man stands and almost snaps in half. The next day we see his blue-tinged corpse pulled out of the bay by police.
Near the end, Anna and Rachael smash and pummel each other while falling over a dresser and other furniture. Anna hits Rachael with a perfume bottle—drawing blood—and crushes her hand in a doorjamb. Bloody knives, fiery explosions and gore-smeared clothing all help round out the impression that ugly brutality is at hand. Scars crisscross Anna's wrists where she once slashed herself.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and three s-words. There are two or three uses each of "h---," "a--" and "b--ch." God's name is misused a half-dozen times, twice in combination with "d--n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Anna and Alex discover a small bag amidst Rachael's belongings that contains syringes and bottles of an undefined drug. Rachael injects Anna with one of those drug-filled needles, and Alex is seen slumped on the floor with blood on her arm, implying that she's already been drugged.
Half-full wine glasses decorate an abandoned dinner table, and guests have mixed drinks and wine at a party. Alex comes in from a beach party and claims to have been drinking. She mentions that dinner with her dad's business associates will require "a lot of alcohol."
Other Negative Elements
The Uninvited runs along two parallel storylines until we see what actually happens at movie's end. Remember, Anna's the poor, good girl through most of the film. But her ultimate actions throw a dark light on all her previous intentions. Worse, we're asked to think that one innocent character is worthy of being beaten and killed. We also discover that Steven had an affair while his wife was ill and dying.
Back in 2002, an eerie chillfest called The Ring took moviegoers by the scruff of the neck and made the hairs back there stand to attention. This supernatural shockerhelped usher in a new moviemaking trend: retooling Asian horror films just enough to give them commercial, U.S. market appeal.
To do that, The Ring's co-producers, Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, did what Hollywood does best—they bought the imaginative but macabre idea, ran it through a creative writing team, attached pretty American actors, threw it to a talented director and found plenty of cash to pour into the budget.
Now, after turning their attention to a variety of other projects (from Lemony Snicket to Sweeney Todd), Parkes and MacDonald have settled on recrafting another offshore psycho-thriller. And from a purely artistic and stylistic point of view, they've done a good job of it.
Their writing team has created a thought-provoking tale with one of those twisty "Hold it—rewind the film!" endings. Their directors paint a troubling landscape that slowly turns viewers upside down. Their cast is appealing and believable, especially Emily Browning, who brings to life the fresh-faced, nightmare-plagued Anna. And they once again keep the MPAA rating at a so-called teen-friendly PG-13.
"The first audience for these movies are teenage girls," said Parkes in a bloodydisgusting.com interview. "You see groups of them, three and four, and they go together, it becomes a social event ... with one big coat over their head, kind of huddled together and gasping. ... They would go back over and over again."
To keep that "scare-me-but-don't-disgust-me" group coming back for more, Parkes and MacDonald saw to it that there's only one f-word, that the sex quotient is limited to skimpy underwear shots and moans heard through the wall, and that you never actually see the razor-sharp blades piece flesh. (That bloody bag of severed limbs is just part of the fear factor, right?)
That's the formula. And box office tallies tell us it's working. But there's more to this kind of moviegoing experience than slightly less messy gore and a few well-timed bump-in-the-night jump scenes. Parkes says the genre "elicits a high level of visceral, emotional and physical reaction from an audience." And that can be a real problem when you're looking at a film that favors murder, mayhem and marauding ghosties.
As those teen girls that Parkes aims his movies at are flinching together and collectively rooting for the heroine to mash her wicked stepmother in the head with a nearby jar, or maybe chop her up into little pieces, they're not asking themselves what kind of uninvited messages are filtering in under their shared coat of protection. Nor do they fully understand what emotional justifications and poorly chosen rationales stay with them after they walk back to their car.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Emily Browning as Anna; Arielle Kebbel as Alex; David Strathairn as Steven; Elizabeth Banks as Rachael
Charles Guard ( ), Thomas Guard ( )