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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Uninvited: Blood, no guts

Submitted by on January 7, 2013 – 12:22 PM2 Comments


Despite the too-broad title — Bloody Things or …Eek! would have worked just as well — The Uninvited has a ton of potential. Jan (Marguerite Moreau of Wet Hot American Summer) suffered most of her life from a peculiar and severe phobia, perhaps best described as compulsive claustrophilia — she couldn't go outside, or even look outside; waking up in the morning with all that space between herself and the ceiling made her horribly anxious. Jan lives in tiny tents made of sheets, faces the wall as she moves through her house, shelters behind the door when a boy delivers groceries. The audience learns about Jan's condition via a documentary made about her treatment by a Dr. Schulman (Donna W. Scott), and the movie-within-the-movie is a weird but interesting tonal blend of The Ring and Grey Gardens.

And Jan's treatment is ultimately successful. In the present day, Jan is married to the documentary's director, Nick (Colin Hay) (yes, "that one"), and is able to exist outdoors and in the centers of hallways and whatnot. Until, that is, an incident that triggered the phobia in Jan's childhood is revisited.

…Maybe? Written and directed by Bob "My Surname Is My Career Destiny" Badway, The Uninvited is a novel twist on the "imprisoned by the evil domicile" subgenre — it's not the house that detains Jan to witness its horrors, but her own mind. It's also a nifty excuse to set up shots for scares: as Jan retreats back into her phobia, turning towards walls or cringing beneath duvet tents, the camera restricts her POV, and we don't know what's going on just around the corner or two inches outside that knothole of fabric.

But we don't know what's going on, period, because Badway's script can't get out of its own way. The budget presents its own problems — amateurish vocoder demon voices of the sort that leave ransom demands on CSI spin-offs; choppy wedding-video slo-mo and color filters — further confused by what appear to be contortive attempts to hide a Moreau pregnancy. That turn of offscreen events could quite easily have been woven into the story, and in fact would have focused the narrative, but as it is, Badway puts too many signifiers in play. A creepy spinning coin and dead/undead people who seem to blink in and out and flashbacks to her treatment and exposition about the home's historical designation (including the unsolved mass murder that took place there, obviously) and her husband is a freelance Satanist thanks to the bad economy? The "hey, I had to do something to make the mortgage" take on sacrifice-for-hire is awesome, but Badway doesn't stick the landing, changing Nick's motivation (mid-conversation, no less) to indicate that he only married Jan because she…because he had a…well, the thing is look over there at that apparition Jan saw 25 years ago! Said apparition is yet another wasted opportunity for the movie, because a spine-tingling visual set-up is bungled with tell-don't-show literalism, only to become unintentionally hilarious when the old lady is snacking on an infant's hand while red-velvet-cake batter pours out of her mouth…not to mention she looks like your average beleaguered suburban piano teacher. At least give girlfriend a set of pointy teeth from Party City, dang.

It's disappointing that Badway didn't trust his material. The tiny panicked POV Jan brings is the best idea he has, but whenever truly awful tension is built up, he steps away from it. The scene that follows Helena (Brittany Curran) is too-casually paced and poorly acted, and Curran is usually better than this, but she's working with remaindered character beats — and watching Jan hear what happens in that sequence is the only correct choice, as it's much scarier, and also she's the heroine.

Moreau is really good, very natural. The dialogue is often just as good, but when it whipsaws into the blockily expositional, she manages it well (Hay is also adept there, while looking unsettlingly like Paul Guilfoyle). She gets even the doofy "Hello?"s to play; she makes you believe Jan's understanding of the world is bent enough by her past to think that creaking noise could be someone she knows. (Everyone else in horror movies needs to quit that shit. Like the ghost or psycho or whatever is going to give you a cheery "Hi! Just here to kill ya — don't get up!"?)

The script just needed to stay on her, on Jan, and haunt her with one single thing, be it her mind or the devil or her husband doing the ultimate sell-out. As is, it's a bewildering and timid mess, more fearful than fearsome. It's not outright terrible, and would make a fascinating double feature with Cabin in the Woods as far as comparing the scripts' assurance with the genre…but mostly it's a letdown. I would watch something else by Badway if he gets more money and a better editor, but I can't really tell you to watch this.

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  • Erin W says:

    Sarah, I'm curious what spurred you on to watch this one? Did you read an interesting review somewhere?

    (Or, it was streaming on Netflix and you needed some background noise while you sorted the laundry? I have certainly watched some garbage under those conditions.)

    Also, Cabin in the Woods kicked ass.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I honestly don't recall. I think someone recommended it to me ages ago and the Netflix queue just now got around to coughing it up.

    (Laundry-sorting is the exclusive domain of Frontline. Hee.)

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