1999; Rated PG-13; 112 Minutes
Liam Neeson: Dr. David Marrow
Catherine Zeta-Jones: Theo
Owen Wilson: Luke Sannerson
Lili Taylor: Eleanor Vance
Bruce Dern: Mr. Dudley
Marian Seldes: Mrs. Dudley
Produced by Susan Arnold, Jan de Bont, Marty P. Ewing,
Donna Roth and Colin Wilson; Directed by Jan de Bont;
Screenwritten by David Self; based on the novel
"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
by DAVID KEYES
freedom of special effects has become somewhat of a war
amongst filmmakers, and it seems like each new big budget
blockbuster that arrives on theater screens is more of an
attempt to outdo previous visual efforts, rather than an
undertaking of general interest in story and characters.
Studios drive their budgets high and far, allowing the filmmakers
to explore the possibilities of technology, without feeling
bound to cut corners. Soon enough, they have taken the envelope
as far as it can go, assured that audiences will look at
the movie and eat up every ounce of breathtaking visuals.
Unfortunately, while these images are being integrated,
scripts are ignored, and stories are lost in the rich and
lush environments. Sure, this isn't a problem for those
who enjoy being fed visual caviar, but what about the others,
who enjoy compelling stories attached to the evocative images?
While stylized special effects are refreshing, the story
and characters that surround them are usually forgettable,
sometimes absurd, thus dragging the movie's strong points
down. This is, of course, where the typical phrase "style
over substance" comes in.
de Bont's "The Haunting" is such an example. It's about
a guy who traps three unsuspecting insomniacs in a haunted
house to do a study on fear, without the realization that
the house he has chosen is inhabited by an evil spirit who
holds children hostage. And since all of these plot devices
are so carelessly underwritten and unobservant (not surprisingly),
we are forced to pay every ounce of attention on the special
effects, which are by far the best seen in a movie this
year. And for once, in quite awhile, the visuals are so
magnificent that you no longer care about a story enveloping
them. By applying incredible detail to the creepy atmosphere,
director de Bont creates one of the finest films of his
career, a movie that, although it is narratively confusing
and sometimes stupid, is saturated with magnificent textures,
and filmed with incredible flair. Visually speaking, if
George Lucas' "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"
is a triumph, then de Bont's "The Haunting" is a masterpiece.
film stars Liam Neeson as Dr. David Marrow, who has an obsession
with studying trepidation, and doesn't mind terrorizing
his victims for the benefit of scientific observation. He
lures three unsuspecting insomniacs into the notorious Hill
House, located far at the end of town, unoccupied by living
beings by the time night has fallen. Each person has their
own story to tell, but alas the film's script barely gives
the most important character a chance to describe her life;
meanwhile, the other two offer minor details that are never
explored to the extent. The most important character is
Eleanor (Lili Taylor), who has been so worked to death by
the sound of her mother calling her in the night that sleep
is almost impossible. Even when the house creaks, and makes
sudden noises, she hears them, and is easily disoriented.
Her mother may have died, but a knock on the door results
in the dialogue "I'm coming mother."
provoke their fear, Marrow describes the remnants of Hill
House's creation, in which a man built a structure so that
he could hear the sound of children's laughter. And the
house looks like children would enjoy it, too, with all
its wooden carvings and echoing halls steeped in meticulously
dense colors. There is even a room of mirrors that rotates
like a Ferris wheel, and once Eleanor and Theo (Catherine
Zeta-Jones) have discovered it, they frolic within the structure
like they were kids again.
innocent story of a man's love for children becomes considerably
grotesque. We learn from ominous sources that this man was
actually a disturbing, hateful human being, who kidnapped
children from town and held them hostage in his complex
castle. Once the story is revealed to the insomniacs, they
hear low growls behind closed doors, and get sudden chills
that last a few seconds and then disappear without trace.
Most of these events are taken rather seriously by Eleanor,
who believes that the small children she hears crying are
trying to tell her something.
what the movie achieves in this eerie atmosphere is not
always brought to the absolute height, because of the one-dimensional
characters. Zeta-Jones passes off as a rather dull player,
who starts of interesting when we see that she has homosexual
tendencies, and then gradually loses steam when she fails
to go much further with them. Liam Neeson, well-known for
his long list of exceptional movie roles, describes the
manifestation of fear in a far-fetched manner, which prevents
us from reaching the level of dread that these characters
experience. And Luke Sannerson, who is subject to most of
the film's accidents, is dimwitted and extremely useless.
It's as if he should be in a "Friday The 13th" sequel or
no doubt that this would have been the best movie of the
year, had it been written more smartly. Ah, but it succeeds
without wise writing anyway. Why is that? Because the movie
is the kind that you stare at with utter amazement, since
the haunted house in question contains hordes of statuettes,
lush images, disturbing portraits, long narrow hallways,
bizarre mirror rooms, and steep staircases that seem to
come alive when night falls upon them. By applying such
rich detail to these visual treats, De Bont proves that
a plot is not always the most important thing in the making
of a motion picture. The attention he pays on the house
is much-needed, although he and his writers should have
realized that a reasonably good story would have taken these
special effects a lot farther.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.