The Haunting (1999)
Film: The Haunting
Director: Jan de Bont
Writer: David Self
Starring: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson
This film begins in a small apartment in a city. We see a woman, played by Lili Taylor, arguing with her sister, who is played by Virginia Madsen. We learn that their mother was sick and has passed away. Taylor took care of her while Madsen went out and lived her life. Madsen’s husband is the executor of the mother’s will and he can see fit to do what he wants her assets. Madsen and her husband want to sell the apartment and ask Taylor to come live with them and take care of their son. She asks them to leave. She gets a phone call to look at an ad in the newspaper for those who have trouble sleeping to be in an experiment. It pays $900 dollars a week.
The man running the study is played by Liam Neeson. He is posing what he is doing as a sleep study, but he really is trying to understand fear more and what it does to us. He is told that what he is doing is unethical. He goes through with doing it and we see the top choices that his helper, who is played by Alix Koromzay, has picked. She seems to be some kind of a psychic or clairvoyant.
Taylor arrives at the house that the study will be done at. It is a huge mansion that looks majestic outside. The gate is locked and she has to wait for one of the housekeepers to let her in, he is played by Bruce Dern. She goes inside and meets his wife, who shows her to her room. She also tells her that once it becomes night, they will be stuck there and there will be no one to hear them if they need help.
The rest of the cast arrives at the house. Another woman who is an artist and has trouble sleeping is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. She is a bi-sexual and takes some interest in Taylor. Together they explore the gigantic house while waiting for the others to arrive. The next is Owen Wilson, who has really bad insomnia and is quite funny. Neeson and Koromzay arrive next with Todd Field.
The six sit down to dinner and hang out together as Neeson explains what the study will entail. It has the subjects taking tests, no going to town, no television and no contact with the outside world in order to control the experiment. He tells the tale of the house about a rich man, named Hugh Crain, who built it for his wife and she died. He wanted to fill the house full of children, but never could so he has sculptures of them.
Koromzay says that she feels there is more to the story. As she is talking a wire in the piano loosens and when she touches the strings it snaps, whipping her eye. She is bleeding and she goes to the hospital with Field before the gate is locked. Outside, Neeson tells Wilson more of the story, in which we learn that Crane’s first wife killed herself. He does this hoping that Wilson will tell the other two women, spreading fear and he does just that.
That night Taylor hears pounding and then hears Zeta-Jones yelling for help. They sit in her room and hear more pounding. It becomes ice cold during this. Neeson and Wilson try to show them that it was their imagination. Taylor believes there is more to it. She begins to see and hear things as well as noticing that some of the sculptures move. Is she crazy? Is her fear and unstable psyche taking over? Is her investigation just adding to it or are the signs she is seeing really giving her the truth story of the mansion? Is the great mansion really haunted and is everyone in danger?
I really liked this movie when I saw it for the first time as a kid. I still enjoy it to his day. It is not all that scary, but you have a pretty impressive setting that is huge and maze like that gives it a creepy feel. That helps a film a lot when the setting can add as much as it does. The acting is very good as well with Taylor really makes you wonder if she is crazy and just seeing things or if what she is seeing is real. Zeta-Jones, Wilson and Neeson are all great in their supporting roles.
I do have to say that this is more a supernatural thriller than it is a horror movie. There is not a lot really jumpy or scary parts, but you are more pulling for Taylor to get the bottom of it. So as a horror film, I would avoid this or watch the original version if you want more scary. For what it is though, it puts together a great story and the acting progresses it very well.
I would recommend giving this one a viewing if you want to see a solid ghost story film. It is not overly scary, but it makes up great in an unraveling story of getting to the bottom of what really happened with the Crain family and his mansion. The acting coupled with a good story really makes it enjoyable. Not knowing if Taylor is crazy really makes this film interesting as well. I would say give this a viewing if it sounds good and you want to see a ghost story with solid acting progressing it.
My Rating: 6 out of 10