The Haunting (1999) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense horror sequences
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Lili Taylor, Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Sannerson
Director: Jan de Bont
Screenplay: David Self (based on the novel by Shirley Jackson)
Review published January 23, 2000
A grandiose mansion called Hill House is the setting for Dr. Marrow's (Neeson, The Phantom Menace) experiments on insomnia, thinking it is one's fears that keeps them awake, and if they can sleep while in a fear state they will overcome insomnia. However some of the scares his students undergo seemingly aren't of his making and one of his subjects, Eleanor (Taylor, Pecker), appears to be the one who is suffering the most.
In many ways The Haunting resembles Hill House itself, the setting where all of the events take place. It is beautiful to look at, but it is also empty, devoid of the humanity it needs to make it a special place. Director Jan de Bont, who gave us the enjoyable popcorn films Speed and Twister, does the best he can, sparing no expense or effort to make the film scary and thrilling, but the script and largely boring characters have so little development that the $80 million spent on the film has gone to waste. It could have been a very scary film, much as it was in the 1963 original, if only the characters were anything we could care about.
All of the elements were there: a proven director, a cast of quality actors, lavish locations, impressive special effects, and seat-shaking sound. However, in the end The Haunting is rather dull, and while the look and sound of the film are literally absorbing, it is the plot that is not. In essence, it is ironic the film is about insomnia when at its heart it's almost like a dream -- lots of fanciful things going on but when it's over there's not a whole lot of sense we can make out of it.
©2000 Vince Leo