‘The Uninvited’ SXSW 2024 Review: A Different Kind Of Home Invasion

the uninvited

From the title alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that writer-director Nadia Conners’ chamber piece The Uninvited is a home invasion story. It is in some ways, though not by conventional genre standards. Taking place in a gated Hollywood villa, there are no assailants, monsters, or spiritual forces that seek to torment the publicists, movie stars, and other above-the-line talent gathered inside for a party. Instead, the film is largely about the realities and feelings we’d rather not let into our lives and how wealth and status, though effective bodyguards for a time, ultimately can’t stop tragedy from crashing in. Originally a stage play before Conner adapted it for the screen, The Uninvited has an unfortunate habit of overexplaining its main points and themes via on-the-nose monologues. But, it overcomes its proselytizing through committed performances and its visual dynamism. 

Couple Rose (Elizabeth Reaser) and Sammy (Walton Goggins) are hosting an extravagant party. Both are experiencing similar degrees of frustration with their careers. Rose, barely in her 40s, is an actress who has struggled to book roles. When we first meet her, she’s been rejected for a motherly role due to her age, ironic in that she’s an actual mother herself. Meanwhile, Sammy is disgruntled with the current agency where he’s a publicist but lacks the courage to start his own unless he knows he can represent reputable clients from the get-go. 

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By offering viewers these brief moments of insecurity before party guests arrive, Conners effectively sets Rose and Sammy up as the “uninvited” and imposters at their own function. The party takes an intriguing turn when an elderly woman, Helen (Lois Smith), stops by Rose and Sammy’s house, claiming that when she was an actress, she lived in that exact home. 

Single-setting films can live or die based on the chemistry of the actors embodying it. Thankfully, the talent Conners has assembled here finds ways to capture the nuance of their characters even while the script pokes fun that many if not all of them are far too wealthy for complexity. Goggins has never been better at this register, finding a way to pull audiences back in and make them care for him at the cusp of when they’d write him off. He’s the type of dad who will do a line of cocaine in his son’s bathroom to desperately appease a client. At the same time, we feel for him when he’s bluntly told by said client that it’s far too late for a career pivot.

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As Helen, Smith plays her with a facetious mischievousness that’s enticing to watch. As Helen invites herself in to explore Rose and Sammy’s home, the couple is patient with her as it’s evident Helen’s suffering some form of memory loss. Yet Smith plays through these sequences with a clever glint in her eye as if to tease the possibility that Helen has a full grasp of her memory and is simply conning the entitled couple for fun. Her freedom and tendency to speak honestly is a perfect foil to the uptight and double-minded A-listers at the party. 

Helen’s dynamic with Rose is among the highlights of the film. Rose sees Helen as both a breath of fresh air and a harbinger of what’s to come for her in the film industry. There’s a painful realization that women in Hollywood are exploited for their youth and then cast aside like an empty champagne flute while men enjoy much longer careers. This is underscored further when Rose runs into her old flame Lucien (an always charismatic Pedro Pascal). Lucien informs her that they’re reviving a stage play where the two first met but whereas he is able to reprise the role of the male lead, the production has cast a younger actress to fill in for Rose’s character.

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Given that much of the film is often comprised of characters having one-on-one conversations, it’s always on the cusp of feeling rote. Thankfully, Conners always keeps the camera moving at just the right moments which adds an unsettling ambiance to the proceedings. Rose and Sammy’s home is undeniably massive but even when characters are walking and having conversations, we never quite get a sense of how big the house is.

DP Robert Leitzell likewise follows guests as they traverse the house but, in each shot, he captures a glimpse of another room or corridor that we have not yet seen. This creates layers of intrigue, even if we’ve seen the same room multiple times before. The camera is always revealing things lurking and hiding in the shadows. It becomes an apt metaphor for characters, especially Rose and Helen, who feel like they’re wandering in circles, caught in a loop of exploitation and exhaustion. They’re certainly not the first to experience and suffer in the exploitative system of Hollywood and they won’t be the last.

While it may not be fully fair to call The Uninvited a home invasion film, it nevertheless explores the tension of when the forces of fear and insecurity invade even the most idyllic of spaces. Helen’s intrusion acts as a catalyst for the film’s most thought-provoking themes. As the characters grasp for relevancy in an industry they know needs no excuse to chew them up and spit them out, it’s a poignant reminder that the line of who’s in and who’s out, who is invited and who is the uninvited, is ever porous. 



Committed performances and stunning cinematography help ‘The Uninvited’ overcome a preachy script and overwrought monologues.



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