Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Uninvited (2009)

Momma dishes out tough love

Korean cinema is still recovering from the financial collapse and the flight of liquidity that began circa 2007. Let's just say that I'm not one to miss the recent 'heyday' of its films, fuelled by excess liquidity, banking solely on idols, and made with mass production cookie cutter plots.

It's ironic then that the recovery of Korean cinema has relied on the kindness of Hollywood remakes and adaptations of its second-rate offerings, often improving on them in the process (see The Lake House).

The Uninvited is a remake of third-rate K-horror flick A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련). The original is a typical K-horror flick, exhibiting the best and the worst of its national approach to film in general, and the genre in particular.

The crimes are innumerable. Overweening art house ambitions create a "so lurid my eyes hurt" set design (a twee overdecorated genteel 'English-style' house) just so director Kim Ji-woon can hammer the heads of his audiences with the European faerie tale/Wicked Stepmother motifs, as if they wouldn't get the allegory had he been more subtle about it. Had the script been less pretentious, more coherent, less over-directed, its attempts to make some form of social and psychological commentary might have been appreciated. But no... that commentary hammers its point home through yet another incomprehensible "can you top this?" surprise twist ending.

As the first film of directors Charles and Thomas Guard, this Hollywood remake attempts to take the best of the original film while jettisoning its worst excesses. They generally understand the expectations of non-Korean cinema audiences when it comes to cinematic grammar, script and storytelling, mostly through filming the movie in naturalistic tones and avoiding the over-directed antics of the original.

The result is a modest horror film that more than stands its ground against other Asian horror remakes as well as Hollywood's home-grown gore and shock fests.

Oh, if you must know: Young Anna survives a traumatic household accident that took the life of her invalid mother and is institutionalised in a hospital for several months, reliving that unfortunate night in a series of recurring ghoulish nightmares. The doctor says after 10 months of therapy, she’s ready to go home. Dad hasn’t actually told her she’s getting a new mum, Sis hasn’t actually told her what a bitch their stepmother is, and the director hasn’t actually told her she’ll be getting even more ghoulish visions and nightmares...

An earlier version of this review was published at incinemas on 14 May 2009

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