THE HAUNTING (1999) 

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Liam Neeson
Lili Taylor
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Owen Wilson
Bruce Dern
Marian Seldes
Virginia Madsen

Jan de Bont



Time: 112 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Horror/Thriller

It's a sad day when talent of this magnitude is wasted on a film like this. Both Liam Neeson and Lili Taylor are wonderfully intense actors, who actually make this trifle watchable if not exactly entertaining. Zeta-Jones is merely there for window dressing. If she keeps choosing roles like this, she won't be around much longer. The sets look amazing and are really the focal point of the film. A problem for both actors and audience alike. One-time cinematographer De Bont proved he could direct with SPEED. However, since then, all his films have lacked one important element – a detailed, interesting script. SPEED is no GODFATHER, but you had characters that were fairly fleshed out...for an action movie. Plus, there was a plot. A fairly simple one, but at least the story had somewhere to go.

THE HAUNTING is a ghost story with no real villain and very few imaginative scares. The fact that it's PG-13 could have something to do with its fairly tame nature, however, there are plenty of scary movies that don't show an ounce of blood. It's obvious that the house was the showpiece and it IS extremely impressive. Though without a compelling storyline, it's a complete waste of eye-candy. The actors are given very little to do, except run around and pretend to be scared. Some of them meet their maker, but since we really don't get to know them their deaths are not exactly tragic. The effects are quite good, unfortunately, what they're running from isn't worth all the angst.

Neeson and company are supposedly staying at the house to conduct a medical study. His character tells them it's to help cure insomnia, but it's really a study about how people deal with fear. What he fails to realize is that the house truly is haunted and that it has called one of their group, Eleanor (Taylor), home. Apparently, the man who built the house 130 years ago killed all the children in the village and is continuing to hunt them even in death. Why should the humans care? These people have been dead for decades. It's up to Eleanor to release the children's souls from the eternal terror of Hugh Crain. Ooh, how exciting. Whatever. Believe me, I didn't spoil anything, because that's as deep as the story goes. The entire film is filled with scenes of Eleanor and friends trying to stay alive. None of it surprising or frightening in the least.

"I'm not staying in this freaking house another second, so come on!"

What's most disappointing is the film had potential. The book, though not terribly scary, was at least more suspenseful. You never quite knew if what they were experiencing was their imagination getting the better of them or if the weirdness was actually happening. They try to do that here, but the effects are so dramatic, there's never really any doubt. Plus the house just looks evil. There's no way I would stay in a place like that in a million years. A little subtlety could have gone a long way. The actors do their best, but they're not really given anything to work with. Besides, why bother when you know you're being upstaged by a house? The only things the filmmaker's did right are the special effects, the set design and the sound. However, even great visuals can't save a useless script. Unless you're completely bored out of your mind, there's no reason why you should sit through this movie. However, if you thought you were bored before you started watching....

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