The Haunting (1999) – Review

2 Stars

The Haunting is akin to the kind of docile horror films that were commonplace before John Carpenter’s Halloween changed the genre forever. There isn’t a single jump or scare in the entire film and it’s a deadly dull tale to boot. The 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, is the inspiration behind this gorgeously detailed and dull movie. This is a family-friendly (the PG-13 rating could easily just be PG) horror film made by older filmmakers with no sense that this type of entertainment was outdated when they first made it back in 1963. The story takes too long to get going and all we are left to do is marvel at the beautiful location and work of the art departments.

Eleanor Lance (Lili Taylor) is selected as part of a research group on sleeping disorders. She along with two other participants (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson) are summoned to a massive mansion located on Hill House. The subjects think that they are there for an insomnia experiment but are really there for an experiment in fear. Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson) is conducting a study on the state of fear but he doesn’t realize that the site he’s chosen is actually a haunted ground lorded over by the ghosts of the children and the man and woman who were killed in the mansion. He has put himself and his group directly in harm’s way.

The Haunting is so gorgeous to simply gaze at I’m tempted to recommend the picture. However, all of that overwhelming set design begins to overtake the film and the cast gets buried under well-done special effects. The character’s choices and lack of development are even more glaring when all you have is impressive effects on-screen. The Haunting comes alive both literally and figuratively during its final act which goes for a manic energy, the rest of the film could have used the same gonzo vibe.

Director: Jan de Bont
Stars: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor

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