18 November 2000 | jiangliqings
A lackluster supernatural thriller.
* and 1/2 stars out of ****
The Haunting is actually a relatively decent film for the first 45 or so minutes. The setup is promising, the production design of the mansion is a sight to behold, and the cast seems to be enjoying themselves. It's unfortunate, however, because after that the film begins to fall apart, leading all the way to the ridiculously bad finale.
Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson) is conducting a test on fear, using the bait-and-switch method. By doing so, he's pretending to do a study on insomnia at the Crain estate, a manor 9 miles from the closest town. The "test subjects" that arrive include Eleanor (Lili Taylor), a hard-working woman who has had little success in life, Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an adventuress and proclaimed bi-sexual, and Luke (Owen Wilson), an all-around jokester.
On the first night in the mansion, Eleanor and Theo hear thundering sounds in the walls, but pass it off as a problem in the plumbing. But events get even more bizarre, as Eleanor sees some sort of a figure inside the fireplace, that just as soon disappears. Slowly, Eleanor begins to believe that there are ghosts in the house, ghosts of dead children and the owner of the mansion himself, the evil Hugh Crain. She also makes a discover about her connection with the mansion that could help free the children's spirits.
The Haunting never features one scary moment. Rather than going for subtle chills or all-out shocks like in House on Haunted Hill, Jan De Bont prefers to rely everything on the special effects, which really are rather unconvincing, particularly the statues that come to life and the CGI ghosts.
It even manages to get worse. Now, to be fair, the film was getting dull by the 90-minute mark so I was initially entertained by the effects-filled finale. But everything gets positively ridiculous in the last ten minutes, as we find out evil ghosts like to play hide-and-seek and smash things up real good.
The blame should fall on director Jan De Bont and writer David Self. De Bont seems to care more about what special effect to use next to "wow" the audience rather than actually trying anything innovative. Self really can't seem to write a good story or truly interesting characters. The dialogue is perhaps the worse of his writing skills.
The only thing that keeps this film from a lower rating is the cast, and they do their best to keep the film respectable. Liam Neeson probably delivers the best performance, being neither as dull or unemotional as critics thought. Catherine Zeta-Jones shows a lot of life as Theo, as does Owen Wilson. It's a pity that Lili Taylor's performance, which was decent at first, turned to borderline camp by the finale.
With nary a true scare in sight, The Haunting should best be seen by those who are scared easily or special effects fans. For everybody else, this is probably a house not to spend the night at.