Once upon a time, a twist ending was a very special thing that was broken out because the screenwriter had some exceptionally clever idea to redefine an entire story and give the whole affair an extra dramatic heft. Nowadays, we all expect a twist ending in pretty much everything, especially horror films and thrillers, which not only means that a great many movies which haven't earned and don't need a twist ending are saddled with one, but also that plenty of screenwriters who aren't particularly clever find themselves forced to come up with some game-changing event that doesn't make much sense and doesn't add value to the story. Thus have we seen an explosion in the past several years of the Incredibly Dumb Twist.*

I bring this up in relation to The Uninvited for two reasons: it possesses one of the most asinine twist endings I've seen in ages, and it's so utterly typical in every other respect that I really can't think of anything else to talk about. I'm not going to spoil the ending, don't worry; at any rate, you can probably figure it out on your own, though you may very well conclude as I did that it's too derivative and moronic for the writers to give it serious thought, and move on to other, better twists, only to be shamefully disappointed.

Adapted - very loosely, I am told - from Korean writer-director Kim Ji-Woon's A Tale of Two Sisters, the new film tells the tale of Anna (Emily Browning), a strangely young-looking woman whose age I can confidently set between 12 and 20. As we meet her, Anna is just being released from a psychiatric hospital, where she was committed after slashing her wrists out of depression and guilt following the death of her cancer-ridden mother (Maya Massar) in an explosion. Though all the people in Anna's small Maine hometown are delighted to see her back, her homecoming is tremendously marred by the discovery that her father Steven (David Strathairn) is dating - and living with - her mom's former nurse, Rachael (Elizabeth Banks). Anna's surly older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is no happier about this turn of affairs than Anna herself, but it appears that there's more to Rachael than just being an unwanted other woman; if the ghosts appearing before Anna's eyes, including her burned mother, are to be trusted, Rachael is also a murderous psychopath.

In the broadest strokes, this is basically every other ghost movie since the J-Horror craze started up at the end of the '90s, and it's not very effective. There's not really anything about the story in its current incarnation (again, my understanding is that the original film works quite differently, such that even the twist fulfills a vastly different and better purpose there) that specifically requires ghosts to drive the plot - absolutely everything that does work is strictly corporeal, and related to the core story about two girls who are quite unwilling to move past their mother's death as quickly as their father has. The whole thing is on one level a grand metaphor for the difficulties of bringing new people into a family, and Banks makes for quite an effective wicked stepmother. Almost-stepmother. You know what I mean.

Indeed, with the usually reliable Strathairn pinioned by a featherweight role (all he gets to do is plead with Anna, over and over again, to let him be happily in love), Banks gives the only creditable performance in the film. By this point, Banks has entrenched herself on the B-list as an extremely appealing, modestly-talented performer best-suited to bubbly but vaguely bittersweet and pragmatic romantic heroines, and as is usually the case when a modestly-talented performer breaks far out of their comfort zone, the results are pretty fascinating to watch. The film isn't very subtle about leading us to Anna and Alex's point-of-view, so Banks gets to spend most of the film as a happy-on-the-outside, poison-on-the-inside witch. It's kind of spectacular, a little bit.

But the whole film around Banks is nothing but a shambles, and her costars are hardly the least of it. I'm not certain if its something about the young actresses themselves, or just the way they're written, but Anna and Alex are tremendously hard people to sympathise with in anything more than a conceptual way: obviously, you want to feel sorry for two teenage girls whose sick mom died in a violent accident, only to find their father indecently eager to hop into the nurse's pants, but right up until the film breaks firmly in favor of "Rachael is Ee-vil", I couldn't stop myself from hating both of them a little bit, especially Alex; frankly, they both come across as spoiled brats. Maybe it's just because I'm conditioned to want David Strathairn to find happiness, but every time the girls did something catty to Rachael, all I could think was, "Man, don't be bitches. Everyone else is hurting, too."

Ah, but then you see the Twist comes along, and throws many things into confusion. Well, not really "confusion". It's one of those lame-ass endings where everything that's really problematic with the film in terms of characterisation and plot holes suddenly turns out to have a very good explanation, although this particular ending also introduces its own share of pretty gaping plot holes; it's not that it's particularly implausible, given the rules of the film's universe, but it is awfully cheap, in that much of what we saw throughout the film must necessarily have been a lie, rather than a Sixth Sense-esque misdirection. At any rate, it doesn't follow organically, and smacks of desperation and a threadbare imagination.

As for the rest of the film...look, it's a PG-13 ghost story like any horror fan has seen at least a half-dozen times by now, and any non-fan isn't going to consider seeing anyway. That means an endless run of the exact same jump scare (close-up on an object for many seconds and then AN OBJECT POPS OUT FROM BEHIND IT!), unreasonable amounts of underlit interiors, and not much else. Oh, and some of the most wildly incompetent continuity that I have ever seen: let me say only "the nightstand with the tin blackbird" and let those who have seen the film recall the amazing Escher physics that allowed that scene to unfold. As the feature debut of a pair of British filmmaking brothers, Charles and Thomas Guard (credited as "The Guard Brothers", which just doesn't have that much of a ring to it, don't you agree? "The Pang Brothers", now there's a name for a horror-making team), The Uninvited is almost totally unremarkable from a seemingly uncountable number of other films, though the Guards do admittedly have an obsession with doorknobs that is unequalled, to my knowledge, in all the rest of cinema. Otherwise, all that The Uninvited has to distinguish itself from all the other J-Horror and K-Horror remakes and knock-offs is a surprisingly effective against-type starring role and a surpassingly horrid ending. Goddamn the winter movie season.