It amazes me that anyone involved in the making of Jan De Bont’s The Haunting thought they were doing anything that could be classified as remotely ‘scary.’ The film barely deserves its PG-13 rating and quite honestly I’ve seen spookier ghosts in that Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion thing. Now, having said that: I do recommend seeing it for the absolutely stunning, breathtakingly elaborate production design and set artistry. The visuals are so beautiful they really deserve a better film to showcase, but oh well.
Basically silly professor Liam Neeson wants to study fear and it’s effects on people, so he places an ad and soon a few people have agreed to spend a night in gargantuan Hill House manor under the guise of a sleep deprivation experiment. Lili Taylor, who is no stranger to haunted houses now that she headlined The Conjuring, is someone I usually love but her performance here as the lead is grating, weird, shrill, dull, stilted and bizarre just to use a few adjectives. Catherine Zeta Jones fares better as a sassy bisexual babe who relishes line delivery and whose ornately beautiful aura slinks in nicely with that of the baroque estate. Owen Wilson is unfortunately also cast and gets saddled with the weirdo comic relief thing, falling flat in every scene and just coming across as vaguely neurologically damaged. Others fly by in smaller roles including Alix Koromzy, Todd Field, Virginia Madsen, Michael Cavanaugh, Tom Irwin, M.C. Gainey and Bruce Dern as the cranky caretaker.
There’s this half baked plot around the guy that built the place, kid’s souls trapped within and something about Taylor’s character being the reincarnation of his wife, which is a horror motif I’m honestly just so sick of. Really it’s just the cast bumbling about these gorgeous sets while things go bump, and occasionally unforgivably bad CGI giant hands reaching out of walls to give them a spank or two. It’s an unrepentant mess. But like I said before, these are some jaw dropping sets they’ve built, full of ornate detail and embellished craftsmanship, from a house of mirrors built into a carousel to a glass solarium complete with spiral staircases to a water featured corridor with book shaped stepping stones to what has to be the world’s largest walk-in fireplace and so much more. Honestly I’d just put it on with no volume, pull up an atmospheric playlist on Spotify and enjoy it sans dialogue or even it’s own score, to saturate yourself in the visual aspect.