Finding fresh, evocative, emotionally disturbing forms for those essentially 'formless' mysterious elements of the unknown that both plague and fascinate us -- particularly in regards to the menacing nature of reality -- The Uninvited, a new Korean supernatural thriller from Su-Yeon Lee, dares analyze within its visually stunning depth and complex mysteries of time, space, and personal culpability that less emotionally daring films would gladly ignore. Creating a cinematic mask of symbols from which we can better see our own dark hearts and motivations, this scathingly effective dissection of identity, memory, and perception is not only a modernized ghost story dressing ancient fears in modern garb, entertaining us by confronting us with terrors of the unknown but, perhaps more importantly, an intellectually challenging, surrealistic nightmare probing assumptions of the nature of reality and dream, as well as our own fragile place within it.
Exploring mysteries of identity and the unknown, The Uninvited excels as a story by going further than its contemporaries by suggesting that life itself is little more than a shadowy, illusive, malignant purgatory-type dream between existences. This daringly complex supernatural mind-bender is as intelligent in its proposal of surrealistic possibilities as it is refreshingly traditional in its insistence on a surprisingly character-driven narrative. Maintaining an impressive emotional and imagistic balance between dark fantasy and a world seeped in the all-too-real heartaches and banal grind of daily torments, director Lee does a commendable job anchoring elements of the unknown in the very language of a seemingly everyday context, allowing the supernatural frights an intimate, organic relationship to events and characters.
Whereas typical, traditional supernatural stories usually first establish a context of everyday reality which invites audience to suspend their disbelief, inviting believability and empathy with characters before allowing occult elements to subtly intrude, The Uninvited subverts the nature of 'reality' from within, suggesting in an emotionally devastating plot, wickedly lyrical style, and philosophically scathing subtext that the ghostly, the malignant and tragic supernatural element so masterfully evoked in the film, isn't 'outside' of our commonly shared everyday reality at all. It is, in fact, an integral if often unseen and un-experienced element of human experience. By finding the source for occult terror within the traditional 'good fabric' of logically defined existence -- a world we've been taught to believe operates by certain logical, scientific rules and regulations-- the filmmakers have created a film experience that does more than scare or titillate. It question, in fact, the entire nature of the universe (and our interpretation of it). No mean feet for a ghost story equal parts intellectual drama.
Directed by Su-Yeon-Lee, this torrid tale of terror and titillation questions the nature of, and possible relationship between, the real and the fantastical as characters we're made to care about descend into an uncertain darkness of ulterior consciousness, stripping away the layers between illusion and physical truth. A much needed breath of fresh dark air in a genre lately overpopulated by stock themes and caricatures, this troubling menage of psychological unease and occult realities is as challenging as it is creepy, evoking wonder and f ear with the precision of a surgeon. As such, it revitalizes a sub-genre which until recently was unique in its emotional subtexts, surprising imagery, and dedication to subversive emotional terror, now fallen into disrepair by consistent retellings of the very same hits that first woke us to the sub-genre's dark charms. Focusing on stealthy plot developments, truly disturbing imagery, and haunting characters whose histories and reactions are believable enough for us to empathize with yet fantastical enough to invite awe, this eerie entry in the J-Horror sweepstakes takes itself (and its audience) seriously, forsaking the genre's emphasis on long-haired wraiths for a unique blend of spectral and intellectual-based horror.
In a story equal parts vivisection of identity and modern myth, we're presented with Jung-won (Shin-yang Park), a man unable to remember his childhood or real family, and who experiences reoccurring visions of murdered children. A successful architect preparing to marry his fiancÚ, Jung-won's commonplace existence is shattered when he discovers that two girls whom he encountered at a subway station are found murdered. This is the catalyst in a series of eerie, mind-bending events that soon prompt him to doubt both his sanity and the very fabric of existence as the strain of his visions and unpleasant situations at work lead to his seeing the very same dead girls setting at his kitchen table!
Meeting Yun (Ji-hyun Jun), a narcoleptic mother who lost her daughter -- and who can also 'see' spirits -- Jung-won realizes that she can help him better understand the strange occurrences whose illusive, haunting nature soon binds them together even as it questions their previous belief in a stable universe. Jung-won and Yun uncover secrets bordering on the rotten canker of existence, and discover that knowledge comes with a price. As these emotionally poignant, admirably acted characters seek to gain insights into the eerily transformed world around them -- and the secrets of their own shadow-coated souls -- they (and by extension we) realize with dawning terror that there is no driving faith or salvation to be found, no science or God, no safety net in love or learning to save them from a world crippled from within, capable of destroying their identities as well as their souls.
People are just as much ghosts in this modern fear fable as the creepily realized specters, and while the later certainly raise goose-bumps, appealing to the viewer in search of a simply frightening evening, the spirits of guilt, doubt, and consciousness lingering beneath surface plot are even more disturbing. A morose, scathing attack against the senses, The Uninvited is as much a condemnation of a self-satisfied culture as it is a subversive, emotionally satisfying blending of psychological anxiety and supernatural possibility. Unrepentant in its willingness to peel back the polite socially conservative skin of taboo with a story dipped in artfully evoked shadows of paranoia, this Asian fear-fest descends where others fear to tread. Combining the modern terrors of loneliness, alienation, and identity with a supernatural existence seeped in traditional folklore and archetypal guilt, this contemporary ghost story is as much a dissection of two people's souls as it is an entertaining thrill ride into the shadow-stained geography of nightmare. Paying as much attention to character development and story-logic as to beautifully captured shadow-worlds of poetically decrepit imagery, this love letter to self-doubt, sin, and soul is both an homage to, and revision of, traditional supernatural storytelling.
With careful attention to detail, a psychologist's knowledge of character, and an expressionistic eye for atmosphere, director Su-Yeon-Lee returns the fervor to fear and marries a subversively complex storytelling style to surreal images whose primal weirdness speaks to something deep inside both our archetypal, cultural and personal memories. A dramatic vivisection of cultural complacency, individual awakenings, and the shadowy border-lands between the everyday and the geography of nightmare, The Uninvited unites (and undermines) the seemingly realistic everyday commonality of experience by attacking perception -- the very tool by which we define the world and our place within it. This shattered illusion of perception -- this destruction of belief in an organized, safe world -- is so much more terrifying than even the spectral horrors abundant in this fear-feast. By throwing doubt upon the nature of madness and sanity, life and death, surface appearances and internal truth, The Uninvited reveals the entire world -- the very act of existence -- as haunted, and it is this pessimistic, unnerving shadow that will haunt you long after the end credits roll.
As visually pleasing in its decadent, impressionistic depiction of an everyday world interwoven within the geography of constantly shifting nightmare existence, The Uninvited is captured in pristine dark beauty by an impeccable transfer that emphasizes the stark immediacy of everyday settings and the more illusive phantasmagoria of characters and environments anchored in a suggested fantastical context. Panik House should be commended for its respectful treatment of such a bold and moving original film. In wonderfully clear, largely blemish free re-mastered widescreen, the picture is presented in 1.85:1 (enhanced for Widescreen televisions). No blotches, lines, or grain appears on this richly textured print. Colors are vibrant and clear. Both the clarity and depth of picture invite further emotional empathy with the story. Audio is likewise professional, presented in both Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with additional optional English and Spanish subtitles.
The wealth of extras featured on this disk further reinforce the respect and dedication with which Panik House regard this scathingly supernatural urban fable, offering audiences in informative interviews, entertaining commentaries, and well written texts a multi-faceted appreciation of the movie's surface plot, subtext, preparation and filming. First off is "The Making of the Uninvited," a behind-the-scenes featurette which places the movie in its cultural context, encouraging greater insight and depth into the movie as we share the film-making process with cast and crew. This is followed by "Reminiscence," an interview with Ji-hyun Jun and Shin-yang Park, and the not as informative "Abridged: The Uninvited Condensed." English and Spanish commentaries supply further memories and insights about not only the film, but J-Horror in general, the nature of fear, and the grueling yet emotionally satisfying process of the industry. This is complimented by the film's original theatrical trailer, poster and still galleries, standard production notes and biographies, and, finally, an informative text essay concerning Korean horror by Art Black. Seeking to capture something of the theatrical experience, the DVD package is rounded out with a special insert card and collectible sticker.
While unadventurous audiences expecting to see another inferior Hollywood remake or teeni-bop slasher all effects and no emotional resonance will be disappointed by this surprisingly mature, uncompromising attack against traditional storytelling and cinematic expectation, those in search of a unique, startlingly ambiguous film of horrific revelation will gladly surrender to the movie's subversive audacity and refusal to wallow in definitive solutions. There are no clean-cut definitions or happy endings to be had in terrors too subjective and powerful to dismiss by either mere logic or faith. "There is more to this world than is safe to know" indeed!
Review by William P Simmons
|Released by Panik House|
|Region 1 NTSC|
|Extras : see main review|