Eleanor (Lili Taylor) is struggling in life. With her mother recently passing away and her siblings leaving her without a home, Eleanor is broke and homeless, left only with an old car. Shortly after a debate with her family, she receives a phone call suggesting she take part in an experiment for those who are struggling with insomnia. If selected, Eleanor will get paid for her time and will stay at a mysterious location. Eleanor gets selected and ends up going to an old and spooky mansion, soon meeting Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones) & Luke (Owen Wilson) who were also chosen for the program. However, the experiment that these characters are taking part in isn’t focusing on insomnia. Dr David Marrow (Liam Neeson), who is in charge of the investigation, is, studying the dynamics surrounding “fear”. Selecting an old and scary mansion was the doctor’s way to begin creating fear in his test subjects. As the group spends time in the mansion things are not what they seem to be, particularly for the character Eleanor (Lili Taylor).
I initially saw this in the cinema back in 1999 as a teenager, and I recall not enjoying this film a great deal. Thanks to a recent re-release done by an Australian distributor (Umbrella Entertainment), I did feel like watching this film again to see if my opinion has changed now that I’m older. But sadly not a lot has changed for me in regards to my opinion of this film.
Firstly, let’s chat about the positives. The visuals in “The Haunting” are fantastic, particularly when it comes to set designs and the mansion itself. While some CGI elements don’t quite hold up to today’s standards, in the cinemas of 1999, this was a big deal. My favourite component of this film was the mansion itself and rewatching this film only reminded me of how cool the sets and central location genuinely are. There is also lots of fine details which all add up. The film’s audio track, particularly when it comes to the sound effects, was also positive on Blu-ray. Background noises or ghosts banging on the door are all present in a great DTS.HD Master Audio Mix and I honestly can’t fault it.
Actors performances in “The Haunting” are somewhat questionable and bland (particularly from Catherine Zeta-Jones- sorry darling), but I do enjoy the main character’s performance. Eleanor has the most exciting story and character development (played by Lili Taylor). Naturally, she is the key to the film’s plot, and fiction and other characters are here to try and bring support or cheesy humour (classic Owen Wilson who even says Wow a few times). But in a nutshell, the side characters are overall bland, uninteresting and naturally weaken the film as they do nothing.
There are also times when the side characters are scared from seeing something spooky, and then suddenly they seem to be convinced it wasn’t real (come on). There are also moments when a ghost or something supernatural occurs, and the characters in the frame have the blandest look on their face, almost like they just don’t care. Perhaps the actors didn’t know what the CGI was going to insert into the finished product of the film. Even when a character gets wounded or dies, the actors reactions are poorly directed.
Another issue I had was the film’s plot. Audiences will be left with unanswered questions and characters who spend time in this mansion don’t get any type of resolution. Do characters change, learn or gain anything from this traumatic experience? The film’s setup is also vague as a Doctor just has the desire to study fear.
Continuity is an issue- characters walking around a haunted house during daytime get a fright and then it’s suddenly night-time, and other characters join them (Wait! Was that how the whole day went!?). As the credits rolled, I can only assume there must have been lots of film on the editing room floor as the film feels like it has gaps in its story.
Overall my opinions from 1999 after my rewatch on Blu-ray hasn’t changed a great deal. I love the look of the mansion and the film’s audio track, but the side characters are weak and uninteresting to watch. The film’s plot is hugely vague with lots of gaps in the story, leaving audiences with questions and little satisfaction.
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Review Written by Peter Walkden