Eleanor (Lili Taylor) is struggling in life. With her mother’s recent passing away and her siblings leaving her without a home, Eleanor is broke and homeless, with only an old car. Shortly after a debate with her family, she receives a phone call suggesting she participate in an experiment for those struggling with insomnia. Eleanor will get paid for her time and stay at a mysterious location if selected. Eleanor gets selected and ends up going to an old and spooky mansion, soon meeting Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) & Luke (Owen Wilson), who was also chosen for the program. However, the experiment these characters are taking part in doesn’t focus 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 of 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 by an Australian distributor (Umbrella Entertainment), I felt 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 regarding my opinion of this film.
Firstly, let’s chat about the positives. The visuals in “The Haunting” are fantastic, particularly regarding set designs and the mansion itself. While some CGI elements don’t quite hold up to today’s standards, this was a big deal in the cinemas of 1999. My favourite component of this film was the mansion itself; rewatching it only reminded me of how cool the sets and central location are. There are also lots of fine details that all add up. The film’s audio track, particularly regarding 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 and uninteresting and naturally weaken the film as they do nothing.
There are also times when the side characters are scared of 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 don’t care. Perhaps the actors didn’t know what the CGI would insert into the film’s finished product. The actor’s reactions are poorly directed, even when a character gets wounded or dies.
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 resolution. Do characters change, learn or gain anything from this traumatic experience? The film’s setup is also vague, as a Doctor desires 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 seeing the film in theatres and after my recent rewatch haven’t changed much. I love the mansion’s look and the film’s audio track, but the side characters are weak and uninteresting to watch. The film’s plot is hugely vague, with many gaps in the story, leaving audiences with questions and little satisfaction.