Low-key supernatural thriller, psychological courtroom drama, Jeon Ji-hyun in a serious dramatic role … The Uninvited arranges a complex story that intrigues at first but fails to reward viewer patience with a coherent finish.
Most will watch this for Jeon’s performance in a role far removed from her halcyon My Sassy Girl days. For those of us who enjoy her as a manic honey/enemy, it might be a surprise, if not an annoyance, to discover that Jeon barely raises a smile (and not once an in-your-face pout) in her portrayal of Yun, a sombre young woman suffering from narcolepsy. If there’s a saving grace to this film, it belongs to the shots of Jeon fainting. She faints spectacularly well, not so much falling as sighing to the ground. Oh, and she also sees dead people.
But that’s okay, because Jong-won sees dead people too. That is, until he decides he can’t possibly see dead people and must be going crazy. Except, he simply can’t go crazy because he has to get married, remain employed, help his father pay off the mortgage … but is that really his father? What about those awkward, disturbing memories, long since repressed, of his youth? If only he could truly remember … why, yes he can remember, all he needs is for Yun to simply act as a Shamanist medium through which he can relive the past!
As you can probably tell, my belief in the quality of this plot dipped progressively as I was asked to construct some logical sense out of increasingly outlandish events. Much of the problem seems to rest with Jong-won, who remains steadfastly, incomprehensibly dumbstruck at every revelatory moment. You get the feeling that when once she has subtended the tragedy of the pathetic patriarch with Shamanism, first time feature director Lee has grappled with more social commentary and cultural essentialism than she can find ways of negotiating. This is doubly unfortunate since her control of the tense image, especially during prolonged or lingering moments of fright, signals her confidence in allowing the story to develop slowly out of characters and situations. The problem here is that we don’t get enough tasty bites of the carrot to remain occupied with the direction of the flacid stick.
Internalised by characters and disguised in evocations of dreams and distant memories, I couldn’t tell you what The Uninvited is really all about. It’s certainly not about Jeon running amok and making us love her/hate her, and that perhaps is enough to make some viewers repress something for themselves: the knowledge that this movie was ever made. I choose to acknowledge it, but hope the filmmakers have gotten out of their systems whatever it was that made them forget about their alert, conscious, suffering audience.