(DreamWorks) Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Arielle Kebbel, Maya Massar, Kevin McNulty, Jesse Moss, Dean Paul Gibson, Don S. Davis. Directed by The Guard Brothers
If there is anything worse than losing your mother, it is watching your father take up with a younger woman after an unseemly short period of mourning. That’s enough to make a girl psychotic.
Anna (Browning) is about to be released from a mental hospital. Dr. Silberling (Gibson) is concerned that she still has some issues, but is satisfied that she is able to function on her own. She had difficulty dealing with the death of her invalid mother (Massar) in a fire. Her father (Strathairn), a noted author, has since taken his late wife’s nurse Emily (Elizabeth Banks) into his bed, which has upset Anna’s other sister Alex (Kebbel) very much to the point where she barely talks to her father and not at all to his new girlfriend.
Anna is haunted by terrible nightmares that she feels are efforts by her mother to communicate with her from beyond the grave. She begins to suspect that Emily had something to do with the fire. Certainly, as warm and welcoming as Emily seems to be, there is a lot of things that make Anna suspicious. When local boy Matt (Moss), with whom she was canoodling the night of the fire, tells her that he saw something the night of the fire, those suspicions grow. Alex feeds into those suspicions; she never liked Emily anyway.
Anna’s visions are growing steadily more frightening and events begin to turn ugly. Anna does some research into Emily’s background and finds some disturbing information – or lack thereof. It certainly looks like Emily is hiding something and Anna is sure that she means to get rid of the two sisters so that she can have her father all to herself. How can she get anyone to believe her when everyone thinks that she’s crazy?
The Guard brothers, Charles and Thomas, hail from England and this is their first feature. They do a lot of things right. Casting Browning was the first thing. She is simply perfect in a role that requires a very juvenile look but a very mature actress. Her wide eyes, sensuous lips and Alexis Bledel-like bangs make her look gamine, but with a certain sophistication that teen girls possess. She is completely believable in her role.
There are also some pretty nifty scares as well as some particularly gruesome images. The Guard brothers have a good sense of how to control the viewers’ emotions, making the scares as effective as possible. They prefer subtlety to over-the-top imagery and while they don’t shy away from the gruesome, they use the mood to their advantage.
Along with Browning, Strathairn and Banks deliver impressive performances. Banks has to be almost schizophrenic in her performance, as both the friendly and maternal persona and as well as the evil and manipulative persona and she gets both across nicely. Strathairn is always impressive as an actor who can radiate affability and menace at the same time. He is one of my favorite character actors working today.
One thing that disturbed me a little bit was that this is a remake of a really good Korean horror movie called A Tale of Two Sisters and the producers seem to be distancing them as much as possible from it. The DVD is nearly silent about the fact that an earlier version exists which in a way I can understand – it is a much better movie than this one.
Still, this one is pretty good. The sense of menace is palpable and the scares well-executed. The ending is supposed to be a bit of a twist, but in all honesty it isn’t that much of one – veteran horror fans will probably spot it well in advance even if they didn’t see the original. Despite that, I can still recommend it to fans of the horror genre, although non-horror fans may give it a wide berth, even though I’d classify this as more of a psychological thriller than out-and-out horror – it has elements of both. If that doesn’t scare you off, then have at it.
WHY RENT THIS: Browning is the ultimate ingénue, and her relationship with her sister is very believable. There are some genuine scares and not just the startling kind, either. Strathairn and Banks are two pros who always deliver.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie that this is a remake of is much better. The “twist” ending is not that shocking.
FAMILY VALUES: While this is rated PG-13, I would hesitate before letting smaller kids watch this. There is some gruesome imagery and sexual content, as well as some pretty nasty violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the final feature appearance of character actor Don S. Davis (best known as General Hammond in the “Stargate: SG-1” series) who passed away from a massive heart attack several months after filming was completed.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus