Film review: The Haunting (1999), directed by Jan de Bont
Based on the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is a different story altogether, this adaptation is about a psychological experiment about fear and fear responses and group suggestion and the likes.
Dr Marrow (Liam Neeson with his native, Northern Irish accent – yum!) gathers a small group of insomniac volunteers at an old mansion, for what they think is a study about their insomnia.
Nell (Lili Taylor) has spent most of her life looking after her poorly, elderly mother. Now that she’s passed away, Nell doesn’t really know what to do with herself, and since her sister and her husband want to sell off their mother’s apartment – making jobless Nell homeless – Nell thinks she might as well take a while and join in the study.
At Hill House, she’s met by the caretakers, the Dudleys (Bruce Dern and Marian Seldes), who inform her that when it gets dark, they leave, and there’s no one to hear them if they need help … in the night … in the dark. Joining Nell is the upbeat Luke Sanderson (Owen Wilson) and the flirty Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Soon, it turns out that the old house perhaps isn’t as thrilled to have them there as they are to be there …
Also featuring Charles Gunning as creepy Hugh Crain and Hadley Eure as Carolyn Crain.
When I saw this film some years ago, I thought it succeeded in giving chills, even though it’s, at best, only loosely inspired by the book. I enjoyed the book because it was more about psychology than actual ghosts.
Here, they’ve just gone CGI-tastic. Can you make wooden faces animate? Yes. Can you make ceilings ripple and decorative windows look like evil eyes? Yes. It becomes quite tiring after a while, because it feels like all they’ve wanted to do is to cram as much CGI in as possible, to the detriment of everything else.
Hugh Crain the evil master of the house … is a monster. And that’s about it. Creepy Mr Evil on a painting is evil and keeps souls trapped in purgatory and what have you. While Zeta-Jones makes it clear that her character will sleep with everyone and Nell lets the house get to her.
Disappointing. But if you like your haunted houses to be all about computer animated effects of parts of the house coming to life, you’ll have a ball with The Haunting. Think I’ll re-visit the 1963 version, which at least has something to do with the book.
2 out of 5 spinning mirror rooms.