Unfortunately the requisite beanpole heroine isn't the only well-beaten path that this film walks. Like other post-holiday horror releases we're treated to basic thriller formulas, teen drinking, PG-13 half-nudity - along with more scared-stiff and seemingly starving protagonists who should probably stop at a deli on the way to the police station.
Anna is picked up at the nuthouse by her father, a bestselling author played with restraint by the tremendous David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum, Good Night and Good Luck). Anna's homecoming to dad's huge Maine shore house is ruined by the appearance of dad's new live-in girlfriend, Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks, taking a break from Judd Apatow comedies). Rachel has the whole town uttering whispers of nefariousness afoot, since it has only been 10 months since Anna's mother died. Plus, Rachel's remaking of the family home is not welcomed by Anna's hard-drinking older sister and fierce ally, Alex, who brings Anna up to speed on conspiracy theories involving Rachel; the girls pretty much become female versions of the Hardy Boys from there.
It's hard for me to objectively criticize Banks' performance, simply because I'm accustomed to her comedic roles. Her presence in every scene distracted. I am used to goofy sarcasm, not this creepy, passive-aggressive psycho. Banks has a pleasant, welcome face that doesn't quite hit the "murderous step mom" note. But if you squint, she's scary enough.
Teenagers looking for a reason to jump, screech, and perhaps engage in some involuntary urination may want to grab the plastic pants and hit this one up. There is the ubiquitous scary-forest scene, cemetery-revelation scene, creaky-door scene and plenty of keyholes and crannies littered throughout the house where evils of the underworld can hide out and jump whenever the movie's score hits the perfect lull.
More discerning moviegoers, however, may want to sit it out. The Uninvited styles itself as a member of the psychological horror/thriller genre. I find this classification misleading. This film makes no attempt to probe the character's psyche or challenge our preconceptions in any meaningful way. There is a psychological element to the plot, sure, but most of that is demonstrated through a hoodwinking of the audience that will leave some feeling betrayed, and others rolling their eyes. Count me among the latter group.
Starring: Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn. Directed by Charles Guard and Thomas Guard. Rated PG-13.