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Haunting, The

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author
It's never good when the audience for a horror movie is laughing uncontrollably. Laughter was what I was hearing though, as I watched this supremely silly and incredibly boring remake of "The Haunting". Critics and audiences alike gave director Jan De Bont punishing reviews after the failure of "Speed 2" and it looks like he's improved little, if any. If anything, this combined with that picture makes his success with "Speed" look like pure luck.

The story tells the tale of a psychologist looking for test subjects for his latest experiment, a test to see the reactions of his subjects to fear. Only instead of being forward with them, he runs a cover over the study, calling it a study about "insomnia"(fitting, seeing that the film itself is like one big sleep-aid). He finds three willing participants in Eleanor(Lili Taylor), a scared and lonely girl who's spent the last decade caring for her ill mother; Theo, a "city gal" played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and in the movie's best performance, Owen Wilson(of "Bottle Rocket") plays Luke, a cynical joker. Suprisingly, the picture's worst performance is from Liam Neeson as the doctor, who has a pained expression on his face, as if he's not even believing the things his character is saying.

Of course, before you know it, the walls of the Hill House are begining to thump and throb with eerie menace, at first out of the notice of our crew, but as the noises grow louder, the group can't help but take notice. Production designer Eugenio Zanetti, who also built the heaven and hell of "What Dreams May Come", also built the halls of the house and his work here is incredibly impressive and full of beautiful, haunting details. If anything, the details of the house itself served as the only entertainment for most of the film. Cool sets don't make a movie though, and unfortunately, the rest of the movie is as empty as the house's halls.

"The Haunting" starts slowly, introducing us to each of the characters and throwing out details that are rather major and are quickly forgotten as they serve no purpose for the story. Details like the fact that Theo is bisexual. Rather interesting, but so what? Instead of building in intensity, "The Haunting" simply sits there as we wait, and wait, and wait for something to happen. The film just sits there and every so often, we get a random shot of the outside of the house, as if that's supposed to scare us. It looked the same 10 times before.

The middle of the film wanders aimlessly as the group finds out the story behind the ghosts that inhabit the house and the group's attempts at looking scared are actually, the most unintentionally amusing bits of the film. Eleanor suddenly turns out to be the "one" that the house is looking for? Why? I'm still not terribly sure as the explanation was rather sloppy. That, or maybe I was so bored by this point I couldn't care less. One of the two, or probably both. The script doesn't provide any interesting lines(Wilson's funny and witty lines seem obviously improved) and the ending seems sloppy. More than that, there are many little errors, such as one involving how the group is locked in and yet they're able to get out on the first night to send an assistant to the hospital.

More than that, the movie just seems like a tease. And I hate that. The movie builds up and builds up and we know that the last bit of film's going to contain something...big. Sorry. The last thirty minutes contains an onslaught of pointless effects and storytelling nonsense. The final moments of the film are an incredibly weak payoff for having to sit through a couple of hours of dull story and uninteresting one liners.

It's amazing how much De Bont sits in horror conventions rather than doing something fresh (or even energetic) with this story. What is lacks most is simply intensity. That key ingredient may have been added by a different filmmaker on this project, but it's simply too late now. I would have liked to have seen what a Tim Burton or a David Fincher or even a Bryan Singer could have done with this film instead of De Bont's painfully slow attempt. Face it, this is an effects film, bent on giving us a high-tech scare. It's technology that has in essence ruined a film like this, which should have focused on subtle scares rather than effects that call too much attention to themselves.

It's a cold, impersonal film which, rather than scaring us, makes us laugh. I know the kind of laughs that echoed through the theater I sat in. It's the laugh of an audience who is far smarter than the film they're watching. De Bont should stick to what he knows best. After failing with not only "Speed 2" but this film, I'm trying to figure out just what he knows, if anything.

A complete, total waste of two hours.


While the movie that a DVD contains may not always be a very good effort, a lot of the time, the DVD presentation itself may be good, or even excellent. Dreamworks has done magnificent DVD work in the past and this is definitely another display of their talent in producing discs with outstanding image quality. "The Haunting" remains absolutely clear and crisp throughout and images look wonderfully sharp as well. There are some incredible colors on occasion as well; some scenes in the house are made up of deep, rich reds, browns and golds and they look magificent. Even the pale, cold blues and greys of the rest of the place tend to look accurate and natural.

The only problem that I saw were some occasional, slight instances of shimmering. I didn't find these to be distracting, and there were no other similar flaws to be found. The print used is also absolutely clear and clean, with no marks or flaws to be found. Another example of great work from Dreamworks, who also impressed me greatly recently with the image quality of both "The Prince Of Egypt" and "Saving Private Ryan".
The movie may stink, but the sound certainly doesn't. The sound designer on this picture was Gary Rydstrom, who you may recognize from the work he did on the soundtrack to another Dreamworks picture, "Saving Private Ryan". The sound throughout the movie is, well, creepier than the picture itself. We hear every creek, moan and certainly, we feel every bump and thud in the house. When the spirits bump and thud, the impact felt is pretty intense and almost over the top. This is the one part of the sound design that I didn't like in the theater and still, at times I find it to be a little much on this DVD. The bass overall really, really is very strong when the picture actually gets going and as I previously mentioned, although it occasionally seems like too much, it does add a level of enjoyment to some scenes and sequences of the movie. You may want to secure objects in the room, though, if you're going to be playing this at high volume. Surrounds are used agressively and to good effect throughout the movie and also, on the teaser trailer. I'll say it when I get there and I'll say it here, for some reason I just really liked the teaser trailer on this picture. Although there's a whole lot going on, dialogue fares fine, always clear and without problems. This is a really strong, dynamic soundtrack. I wish I could have turned off the dialogue in this movie entirely, and listened to everything else going on. Now that would have been perfect.

MENUS:: Not only is the trailer creepier than the movie, but so are the menus, which are nicely animated as a selection moves you to a different hall of the house. All of the menus are animated as well once you get to them.

EXTRAS: The teaser trailer (which rocks and also boasts a great sound mix), the theatrical trailer (which isn't nearly as good) and a featurette that is of the "HBO" variety, with some fairly decent interviews and behind-the-scenes shots. Nothing to get excited about, but I really do love that teaser trailer and how good it sounds on this disc.

Final Thoughts The movie is terrible, but the DVD quality from Dreamworks is excellent as always. At the most, I'd say it's worth a look as a a rental.

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