The Uninvited is a technically a horror movie, I suppose. There are ghosts and all. With the exception of the protagonist finding a kindred spirit–and her seeing ghosts too–the whole thing could work as a drama about trauma. In fact, as a drama, it would work well. During the movie, when the inevitable dumb horror movie ending is far, far away, it’s quite good. It’s a quiet drama about wounded people who don’t necessarily get better from finding other wounded people or finding out what wounded them in the first place. It’s a boring, cheerless drama. And it does run long–over two hours–which explains why there’s time to introduce the second main character, the psychic, played by Jun Ji-hyun, after a lot of establishing of the protagonist.
There’s a lot of good acting in the movie–Yu Seon as the confused fiancée (that Uninvited cheats her of being a real character is one of the biggest red flags) is particularly good. The problem with the leads are the constant backstory surprises. Park Shin-yang, playing the main character, experiences a traumatic event during the main titles and suffers from aftereffects. Through contrivance, Jun comes into his life and, because her backstory is so much more interesting, the movie loses all interest in Park’s trauma. It even gives him a deeper, more historical trauma, just so it can involve Jun. At this point, Yu sort of disappears, popping back in every once in a while to remind the viewer Park was, at one point, an important character in the movie. The big traumas at the end, which lead to the “surprise” horror movie ending (surprise is in quotations because it’s really just a standard, stupid horror movie ending), don’t make much sense and aren’t insurmountably traumatic.
One of the interesting things about The Uninvited–the direction is okay, but there’s rarely anything spectacular or compelling–is the place of Christianity in the characters’ lives. Yu’s got a great monologue about praying and a fantastic observation about people leaving church. And the movie certainly suggests religion is going to play a part in the resolution… but it does not. Not at all. The movie even misplaces a baby, it gets so wrapped up in itself.
Park’s got a few good scenes, particularly at the beginning when he’s the focus. Then there’s the twenty minutes the film plays like a mystery and he’s investigating. Those scenes work too. But at the end, when he’s a wreck, Park’s lost… the character’s actions make no sense and Park’s not a good enough actor to make them palatable. Jun’s character’s even worse, a grieving mother abandoned by the script. Lee’s more interested in giving the viewer a surprise than a considered look at grief, which is too bad. Jun, as an actress, is suited for the latter and doesn’t do at all well with the former (as evidenced by the long-shots towards the end).
For so much of the two plus hours, The Uninvited is a good, genre-busting drama. Only at the end does it become a bad horror film. There’s five or six minutes, in the third act, when the movie’s racing downhill I had a chance to get upset about… but the ending’s so dumb, I’m not even upset writer-director Lee ruined the good parts.
Written and directed by Lee Soo-youn; director of photography, Jo Yeong-guy; edited by Kyeong Min-ho; music by Jang Yeong-gyu; produced by Oh Jang-wang and Jung Hoon-tak; released by CJ Entertainment.
Starring Park Shin-yang (Jeong-won), Jun Ji-hyun (Yeon), Yu Seon (Hee-eun), Jeong Ok , Lee Ju-shil and Kim Yeo-jin.