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Teen Movie Critic

Jamey Hughton

July 28, 1999

Jamey Hughton is a 15 yr old student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has written a weekly published column, MOVIE VIEWS for The StarPhoenix, the Saskatoon daily paper, since November, 1997. He was honoured to be a 1999 Writing Finalist in the Canadian YTV Achievement Awards.

He maintains a Web site MOVIE VIEWS by Jamey Hughton.

His reviews are now also found at: IMDb, MRQE and the Newsgroup.

The Haunting

If youíve seen the trailer for The Haunting, then youíve basically seen the movie. This remake of the 1963 Robert Wise classic is simply a showcase for horrific special effects, ghostly apparitions and floating demons that look more expensive than scary. The gorgeous production designs and sets do a rather efficient job of covering up the countless illogical plot holes that are found in David Selfís brainless script. Or at least, to a certain point.

It sounded just peachy keen. A haunted house movie with a talented director and top-notch cast, in a season devoid of anything resembling it. The audience is expecting a scary thrill ride, what they will get is a wonderfully produced movie with a terrible execution.

Liam Neeson (in his second big summer outing, along with The Phantom Menace) is a paranormal psychologist named Dr. Marrow, who has gathered three patients who suffer from insomnia and invited them for a week at Hill House - a freaky gothic mansion with a frightening decor. He informs them that the purpose of this trip is to help them overcome their sleep disorders. Really, he is conducting an experiment about the dimensions of fear, and how it will affect certain individuals over prolonged periods of time. The house itself has an erratic past (but I wonít get into the details).

The invited trio of guests are Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Eleanor (Lili Taylor) and Luke (Owen Wilson). All three suffer from insomnia, but for different reasons; Theo and Luke find their lives stressful and canít settle down at night, and Eleanor has had a troubled past thatís been plaguing her for years.

The spooky sets of The Haunting steal the movie with ease. The shoddy set-up is aided immensely by the interior designs of the mansion, as the characters explore them in awe. Production designer Eugenio Zanetti has outdone himself, making the film atmospheric and creepy with an ingenious array of statues and interior decorations. If only the script were so effective. While the surroundings manage to cover up some of the plot holes inconspicuously, many are left exposed.

The Haunting expects too much from the viewer. Weíre supposed to accept the story even as it gets exceedingly ludicrous, and tests our patience with plot turns that seem remarkably stupid. In the last half hour, the film turns into a typical 90ís special effects extravaganza, combining elements from Poltergeist and The Shining to create a freak show of shifting walls and floating ghosts that look like the Ghost of Christmas Future. This could be fun for some people, but most will find it quite ridiculous. The finale, though spectacular, is the least frightening aspect of The Haunting.

Taylor is the only actor that has some sort of an emotional impact. She struggles valiantly trying to keep her characterís actions plausible, but they derail with the rest of the movie eventually (she says "But the children need me!" so often I felt rather ill). Neeson has never been so dull, but heís not to blame. Zeta-Jones and Wilson donít serve much of a purpose, besides cracking jokes and looking confused and/or scared with the goings-on around them.

The Haunting is disappointing, but it has itís rewards. The marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith, the special effects and sets - they are all tidbits of enjoyment in a movie that gets lost too easily in a sea of murkiness.

My Rating = Two Stars

Jamey Hughton can be reached directly at movieviews@hotmail.com.
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