The Haunting


(remake of Robert Wise's 1963 original)

Fantasy elements

trapped in a haunted house


Nice effects, good acting, shame about the plot.

Liam Neeson plays a scientist researching into fear. He gathers together a group of people, ostensibly researching their insomnia, into a Gothic mansion, to observe how they behave under the suggestion that it is haunted. Unfortunately, it really is haunted.

There are some very good touches -- the book stepping stones -- the faces under the cloth -- the creature in the conservatory pond -- lingering looks at old portraits, where you just know the eyes are going to move, but they don't -- stone gryphons on the staircase, where you just know they are going to come alive, and they do, but much later on. Yet there are also wasted opportunities, like the revolving mirror room, where you just know someone is going to get trapped, but they never do.

My main gripe is that the plot is badly paced. There is too much initial set up getting everyone together, hardly any ambiguity during the early strange events -- not enough "is it part of the experiment, or is it real?" (like the cause of the eye accident) -- and we are too soon into the real haunting. The plot also has its stupidities -- the idea that the scientist could ever think this bunch of nutballs could form the basis of a controlled experiment -- that there wasn't more than one mobile phone amongst them all -- the attempted rescue on the disintegrating spiral staircase. [Gothic interior] The actors do just manage to rise above the idiocies of their material, however (it helps that most of them are supposed to be weirdos, of course).

The best part is the effects. The enormous Gothic house is brilliantly realised (although I'm not convinced that internal arrangement of enormous curving corridors and round rooms could fit into that external architecture), and the flexing ceiling and animated stone monsters are well done.

So, watch for the scenery, not the plot, and have fun.

Rating: 4

[ unmissable | worth watching | passes the time | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 24 October 1999