Aboard a subway and on his way home, Jung-won dozes his way through several stops, at last startled awake as the train rumbles to its final destination. Collecting himself, the weary traveler exits the train and notices two young girls seated across from each other, apparently asleep and unattended. Still befogged by the residue of sleep, and the surprise and confusion of finding the two children, Jung-won is uncertain what to do and can only watch from the platform as the subway train speeds away, plunging into the darkness with the two little girls still aboard.
With a successful career as an interior designer and a loving, if somewhat domineering, fiance, Jung-won appears to have a stable and comfortable life. However, when he learns later that the children on the train were found dead, he becomes haunted by the two girls, whom he finds seated, much as they were on the train, in his kitchen. Frightened he flees his apartment, but to little avail as the dead girls haunt his dreams and ultimately stir up horrific memories that Jung-won had long ago buried.
As the delicate threads of his life, sanity, and future continue to unravel, the puzzling fragments of Jung-won’s past begin to fit together after he meets a young woman named Yun who suffers from narcolepsy and is susceptible to psychic phenomena. With Yun’s help Jung-won is able to at last unearth the past that haunts him – but as it turns out, some memories, like those on the train, are perhaps better left undisturbed.
The Uninvited is the type of horror film that, rather than conforming to any strict definitions that dictate the genre, illustrates what a varied and expansive genre horror really is. I’m certain many viewers would not even consider The Uninvited a horror film. However, as I see it, those viewers have cast the genre into a rather strict definition that restrains and limits horror cinema’s inherent potential and scope.
These limitations seem to be more staunchly enforced by viewers of horror films than, say, readers of horror literature (even when these people are one and the same). Horror literature is extremely varied and wide-ranging, and enjoys a far more liberal definition than its filmic counterpart. In this regard, The Uninvited has more in common with the elegant horror stories of Shirley Jackson than it does with the majority of movies that, for many today, define horror cinema.
In The Uninvited, ghosts serve as the catalyst that propels the main character into his own past – a childhood scarred by a series of haunting and disturbing events that, as a common survival mechanism, he has blocked from his mind. As with many great ghost stories, the main character is haunted by what appear to be both literal ghosts, in the form of the girls on the train, as well as the figurative ghosts from his tragic childhood. To a large extent the film successfully weaves the two together, leaving the viewer to decide if the ghosts are real, allegorical, exist solely due to the character’s mental state, or perhaps even all of the above.
The film’s story is filled with a lot of interesting ideas and subtle touches, and the writer/director of The Uninvited, Su-Yeon Lee, does an admirable job creating a compelling and sophisticated film that visually complements the material. In particular, Lee, with the help of cinematographer Yeong-gyu Jo, excels at creating images and composing shots that mirror and make visible the inner workings of his characters. The somber and somewhat austere look of the film also serves this function, in addition to creating a convincing and palpable atmosphere.
A foreseeable problem for some viewers will be the film’s pacing. The Uninvited is rather slowly paced – some might even go so far as to call it downright sluggish. However, the interesting and compelling story, bolstered by strong performances and first-rate filmmaking, should be enough to carry thoughtful viewers through some of The Uninvited’s slower passages. In fact, the deliberate pace of the film actually lends a startling contrast to those moments which are punctuated by some truly unsettling and horrific imagery. In and of themselves, these scenes are quite strong; however, that the film slowly builds to these shocking moments makes them all the more effective.
The dedicated people at Panik House Entertainment have brought The Uninvited to DVD in what is being called “the world definitive edition.” Given the packaging, presentation and immensity of extras, it would indeed be difficult to argue with this claim. The film has been digitally remastered and the DVD features the uncut version of the film. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette that documents the making of the film, an interview with the stars of The Uninvited, Ji-hyun Jun and Shin-yang Park, an abridged fifteen-minute version of the film titled The Uninvited Condensed, two commentaries (one in English, the other in Spanish), a trailer for the film, poster and still galleries, production notes, an essay on Korean horror written by Art Black, storyboard comparisons, bios, soundtrack samples, and lastly, a collectible sticker.
In short, The Uninvited is an admirable film that rewards careful viewing, and which will hopefully find a wider audience now that it is being released on this excellent DVD from Panik House.