The Haunting

Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting follows researcher David Marrow (Liam Neeson) as he brings a trio of subjects (Lili Taylor’s Nell, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Theo, and Owen Wilson’s Luke) to an enormous mansion for a sleep study – with the revelation that the house is, in fact, haunted paving the way for a series of frightening and deadly encounters. Though certainly a handsomely-shot and well-acted production, The Haunting, as becomes more and more clear, suffers from a decidedly uninteresting atmosphere that’s compounded by an inherently familiar storyline – as much of the picture follows precisely the sort of formula one might’ve anticipated (ie the first half consists mostly of characters exploring their creepy environs and experiencing spooky happenings, while the second details their progressively frantic efforts at avoiding the ghosts’ sinister advances). Filmmaker Jan de Bont’s ongoing (and increasing) reliance on CGI certainly does nothing to alleviate the pervasively tedious atmosphere, as the overuse of shoddy special effects diminishes the impact of the movie’s few overtly unsettling moments (ie there’s nothing scary about any of this, ultimately). It’s clear, too, that the ongoing investigation into the horrific happenings within the house only perpetuates The Haunting‘s progressively tedious vibe, while the disastrously over-the-top finale ensures that the whole thing ends on as anticlimactic a note as one could envision – with the end result an adaptation that manages to fare even worse than its subpar source material.

* out of ****


  1. Hi David,
    While I couldn’t agree more with the faults you’ve pointed out in this adaptation, I find it interesting that you regard the source material as being subpar as both Shirley Jackson’s novel and Robert Wise’s 1963 film are generally regarded as being among the very best offerings of the haunted house genre. Much of their success stems from their slow-burning sense of dread and a reluctance to confirm or deny the existence of the monster until the final moments (even then there is still much room for debate). In Wise’s film, we don’t see any ghosts, resulting in a far more psychological brand of terror – precisely where De Bont’s incarnation fails so dismally.

    • @Marc

      It’s quite possible that David has mistaken William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” (1959) as the source material for this, since he posted a review just a few weeks earlier:

      Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963) is indeed a classic and one of my favourite horror movies.

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