The Haunting



Rule #1 in telling a good ghost story: the less you show of the ghost, the better. Robert Wise understood that in 1963, Jan de Bont ignores it in 1999.

For the first half of this new adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, the story follows the book and the original movie with reasonable fidelity, and thus for the first hour, The Haunting is reasonably effective and spooky. The ghostly manifestations are done with sound and suggestion, not ham-handed visuals. After that, however, the special effects take over and the film loses all narrative cohesion.

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There were a few early problems with the movie, too. The first was the house itself. In the book and the first film, Hill House was a stately mansion to be sure, but never resembled this cross between Xanadu and the Winchester House. Secondly, in the book and first movie version, the character of Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones) was subtly suggested to have a sexual interest in Eleanor (Lili Taylor). In this version, Theo announces outright that she has a girlfriend and a boyfriend and any subtlety to the subtle sexual tension between the two women is lost for good.

As far as the story goes, the writing depends on coincidences too bizarre to be believed, and the resolution is too neat, too pat to make an effective ghost story. The foreshadowing in this script not only lacks subtlety, but some events are so obviously telegraphed that Samuel Morse should get a writing credit.

The acting is fine, although Liam Neeson chews the scenery a little toward the end. He’s probably just making up for the lack of opportunity he had to do any actual acting in Star Wars.

Jan de Bont serves up another reminder that he’s never one to let story get in the way of special effects. This may be his most competent film after the original Speed, but that’s hardly an accomplishment given his output since then.

All in all, this version of The Haunting is a waste of the talents of those involved. See the 1963 original instead. Better yet, read Shirley Jackson’s brilliant novel.

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