Emily Browning, The Uninvited

Kimberley French/DreamWorks

Review in a Hurry: Better-than-average American remake of a mediocre Korean horror film, courtesy of two British filmmaking brothers named Guard, about a troubled teen and her potentially evil stepmother.

The Bigger Picture: A Tale of Two Sisters, the original basis for The Uninvited, might have been called The Uninspired. Emerging at the tail end of the Asian horror boom that began with Ringu, it was, on the surface, yet another ghost story featuring a girl with long black hair over her face. What had once terrified was finally tiresome.

Its remake, on the other hand, while oddly titled (no character in the film truly qualifies as "uninvited" to anything), has more genuinely earned scares than any other recent American horror movie. Truly impressive for a film that, based on the commercials, one might have suspected as just more fodder for the January cinematic graveyard.

Fresh out of a mental institution, Anna (Emily Browning) returns home to be with her novelist father (David Strathairn), mouthy sexpot sister (Arielle Kebbel) and scarily seductive new stepmother, Rachael (Elizabeth Banks). Oh, and Rachael also happened to be the primary caregiver to Anna's sick mother, who was later killed in a mysterious fire which traumatized Anna to the point of insanity and amnesia.

While terrifying apparitions try to jog her memory, the Guard brothers make sure to deliver frequent shots of Kebbel in a bikini, Browning in her underwear and Banks displaying as much cleavage as a PG-13 allows.

There are plenty of familiar elements here: The teenager whose fears are not believed because of her history of mental illness, the clueless parent who just doesn't get it, the gold digger who'll stop at nothing to have the perfect family and the ghosts who point toward convenient clues in the most frightening ways possible.

But much like a new menu item at Taco Bell, The Uninvited manages to serve up the familiar ingredients in a sufficiently novel way that the audience can dig it anew.

The 180—a Second Opinion: By movie's end, it's not clear that everything we've seen actually makes sense. Though the story is clever, it also gives itself an easy excuse for not being 100 percent coherent, and those who watch it a second time will likely find ample grounds for nit-pickery.

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