THE HAUNTING (1999)
Starring Lili Taylor, Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Bruce Dern, Marian Seldes, Alex Koremzay, Todd Field, Virginia Madsen and Michael Cavanaugh.
Screenplay by David Self.
Directed by Jan DeBont.
Distributed by Dreamworks Pictures. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.
It probably isn’t fair to compare this film to the Shirley Jackson’s great 60s novel The Haunting of Hill House, which it is based on — or even Robert Wise’s earlier film version of the book, also called The Haunting. Those works were deep psychological masterpieces that this film can’t and doesn’t try to keep up with. In fact, the earlier incarnations of the story — where the ghosts were never actually seen but implied — probably couldn’t even float with the sensory-mad modern audiences.
But this Haunting does keep a very real creepy grip on an audience. A psychiatrist (Liam Neeson) invites three insomniacs (Lili Taylor, Catherine-Zeta Jones and Owen Wilson) to an old haunted mansion for an experiment in human response to fear. This isn’t really an actor’s film though, and the characters are fairly one-dimensional.
For example, Zeta-Jones’ character, which was equally menacing and enthralling in the earlier incarnations is now basically just there to scream, look good and try to get people out of there. Neeson’s character is a bit of a blank slate. He’s blatantly using these people and yet he cares for them — at least when it is necessary in the script. Wilson is essentially playing the Jar Jar Binks character — he’s only there for unnecessary and annoying comic relief. (At least here the audience gets to enjoy seeing him meet a grisly end — wish we could say that for Jar Jar.) Indie-film queen Taylor is as always, terrific in her role as a repressed caregiver who finally finds her meaning in life.
But the real interesting character here is the house itself. A beautiful old manor full of spooky rooms, large staircases and hidden passages, the set is a technical marvel. The funny thing is that the end, in which director Jan DeBont (Speed, Twister) pulls out all the SFX stops is not nearly as scary as several earlier, quieter, scenes. For example, one scene with a skeleton in a fireplace is the best film jolt since the head floated out of the hole in the bottom of a boat in Jaws. The Haunting gives you good the old-fashioned type of chills that I thought were extinct as we hit the millennium. (7/99)
Copyright ©1999 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 23, 1999.