Movie Review: "The Haunting" (1999)

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DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.

"The Haunting" is a modern-day remake of the original 1963 film of the same name, both of which are based on the novel "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson. Directed by Jan de Bont ("Twister", "Speed" 1 and 2), the remake stars Catherine Zeta Jones as a flirtatious lesbian (Theo), Owen Wilson as the annoying comedic relief guy (Luke), Lili Taylor as the quiet good girl (Eleanor), and Liam Neeson as the doctor conducting the haunted house experiment (Dr. Marrow).

Dr. Marrow is looking for candidates to participate in his experiment which involves fear and paranoia, but there's a little more to it than that. Soon enough, the ghosts start making their presence known to the characters whom begin to point fingers at each other, assuming one of them is playing pranks.

"The Haunting" is a spooky haunted house film that is expected to be scary. But the thing is... it's not. Not in any way at all. "The Haunting" is nothing but a big special effects attraction. Actually, I'm surprised that this film isn't based on some scary Disney theme park attraction (Tower of Terror anyone?), because that's the sense I get from every one of its CGI-filled scenes.

This was back when Hollywood thought big CGI monsters were scary so they blew away all their big bucks on fancy special effects. But instead of making a creepy ghost flick here, they remade "Terminator 2: Judgment Day".

The Boring

That would have made for a better title rather than "The Haunting" -- "The Boring" -- Because hardly anything happens for a huge portion of this movie and when something does happen, it's neither exciting or scary. Nothing remotely 'haunting' happens until about thirty five minutes into the movie.

The first half an hour is filled with filler, set-up, filler, exposition, filler, introductions, filler, and more filler. Now, there's nothing wrong with a slow build-up, but something of some sort should definitely happen within the first fifteen minutes at the very least. If one were to watch the first half hour alone, it could easily be mistaken for a made-for-TV drama or something along those lines.

Peek-a-Boo!

Here's the big problem with "The Haunting". What good is a horror movie if it's not scary at all? The attempts to scare the audience in "The Haunting" are completely devoid of any suspense or tension. There's no sense of dread anywhere in this big old mansion that it takes place in. And it's got nothing to do with the fact that it's a big house, just look at "The Shining", everything worked out fine with that film. Maybe director Jan de Bont should have watched that before signing up for this?

To prove my point here, I will attempt to list almost every attempted scare in the film, how far into the film they happen, and the immediate response I get from each one. Ready? Let the boo moments begin...

TIME
'BOO' MOMENT
IMMEDIATE REACTION
35 minutes
A pair of violin strings unscrew themselves and slash a woman's face.
Minor gore. Not scared.
40 minutes
Random loud knocks and cold air.
Still not scared.
45 minutes
Eleanor's window opens by itself while she's asleep. A shape appears in the curtain and travels beneath her bedsheets. Then a child whispers something.
Is that a mini T-1000 moving under those bedsheets?
50 minutes
Some chains shuffling on the floor, a shadowy figure moves behind them.
Peek-a-boo! I see you too!
52 minutes
A bloody message appears on the wall.
Mmm, I wonder if there's some fruit punch in the fridge.
60 minutes
A transparent kid ghost tries to speak to Eleanor.
Don't go into the light, Carol Anne! Don't go into the light!
65 minutes
Something touches Eleanor's hair.
Wow, I'm on the edge of my seat.
68 minutes
Eleanor imagines a corpse hanging in the greenhouse.
Close, but no cigar.
70 minutes
A CGI hand reaches out of a door.
Pause button. Time to watch some porn.
76 minutes
A candle blows itself out. Cue Big Special Effects Sequence #1 - A ghost uses almost everything in Eleanor's room to attack her. Then, it chases her into the hallway.
Is this a Michael Bay film?
80 minutes
A bunch of mirrors play tricks on Eleanor's reflection.
Just think of all the ways this scene could have been scary if it were done right.
83 minutes
Liam Neeson attempts to climb a collapsing winding staircase in order to save Eleanor.
Good action scene, but not scary.
88 minutes
Cue Big Special Effects Sequence #2 - Eleanor's room starts falling apart. A giant ghost face appears on the ceiling and tries to rape her.
Yawn.
96 minutes
A bunch of doors closing and chairs moving around as the characters attempt to escape.
BURP!
98 minutes
Owen Wilson is dragged into a fireplace and decapitated. A giant CGI bird statue comes to life.
Comedic relief characters usually die in horror movies. I'm not surprised.
102 minutes
Cue Big Special Effects Sequence #3 - Complete with huge CGI statues coming to life, a giant ghost surrounded by high velocity winds, and the whole house falling apart.
Was that an early teaser for "Twister 2"?

Ghosts & Lesbians

Was it necessary for Theo to constantly flirt with Eleanor throughout the film? Not that I have anything wrong with beautiful lesbian or bisexual women, but I thought this movie was called "The Haunting"? Every minute of flirtatious nature between these two totally detracts from the sole purpose behind this movie -- to scare the living crap out of people.

This movie would have probably been better off if it were a lesbian drama about Theo and Eleanor. Forget about the un-scary CGI ghosts, all that's needed are some steamy scenes between Catherine Zeta Jones and Lili Taylor.

Remedies for "The Haunting"

  • Ghosts that are not CGI would have helped ("Paranormal Activity" anyone?).
  • Making the psychological horror aspect the main focus of the story, rather than fancy and expensive special effects.
  • Tone down the lesbianism. Theo's gay, bi, or whatever. Thanks, we get it.
  • Better yet, not remaking the original 1963 movie, period.

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