We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Emily Browning's face helps "The Uninvited" work so well. She's a 20-year-old actress from Australia, has a lot of experience, but looks about 14. She makes an ideal heroine for a horror movie: innocent, troubled, haunted by nightmares, persecuted by a wicked stepmother, convinced her real mother was deliberately burned to death. She makes you fear for her, and that's half the battle. Yet she's so fresh she's ready for a Jane Austen role.
I recoiled twice in the opening minutes of "The Uninvited," and that's a good sign. This is a well-crafted first feature by the Guard Brothers (Thomas and Charles) from Britain, that weaves a story not as predictable as it might seem. Browning plays Anna, who when we meet her is finishing a stay at a psychiatric clinic under the care of chubby, paternal Dr. Silberling (Dean Paul Gibson). Her dad (David Strathairn), darkly ambiguous, drives her home to be welcomed by his girlfriend Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), who is all sunshine and false friendliness.
But Anna yearns only to see her older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). They dive off from the boathouse, make sister-talk on the raft, and then Alex swims away as young Matt (Jesse Moss) arrives on his grocery delivery-boat. Matt, the boy who was getting too insistent with Anna when they were making out at the beach campfire. And that was the night her sick mother died, burned up in the boat house, which had been converted into a sick room, and now, as Anna has just seen, been rebuilt.
What really happened that night? How did Rachel start as her mother's nurse and become Anna's new step-mom? Don't Rachel and her dad know how it disturbs the girls to see them smooching? And who is Rachel, really? Is that her real name? Google can be an insidious resource.