The hauntings continue
The Haunting, with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor, is a pretty good retelling of The Haunting of Hill House, with permission. It’s a decent, though heavily flawed, psychological thriller until the over-the-top CGI at the end.
The high point of the film is the decent—and I mean that sincerely—acting by all involved. The film’s greatest lack is that Liam Neeson is woefully underused. His character, despite being the lynchpin of the plot, doesn’t actually do much. It looks as though there was supposed to be tension about whether he was causing all or some of the hauntings but if so it was negated by perspectiveless scenes in which we see that the haunting is real. This also removes the other tension, which was the possibility that Eleanor is going crazy and hallucinating everything. If it’s happening when she isn’t present, then she’s not.
A lot of the tension was squandered by keeping things from the viewer that the characters knew (or thought they knew). We have no idea, for example, that Liam Neeson’s character might have invited Eleanor specifically until we find out that he didn’t.
We are never told why he has chosen the house or how he gained access to it. In the book, one of the heirs to the house accompanies them; his character is dropped from this version, but there’s a sort of completely wasted twist that plays on it.
For the new movie, they exchanged the old paranormal research subplot for fear research, but that makes these people nothing special. In the book, the psychic potential of the subjects awakens the house; in this version the house, presumably, is always awake. Except that it isn’t: as in any good horror movie, the house wakes up slowly, perhaps fed by blood. Or perhaps not, because by the end of the movie it seems that the house has been awake all along, and able to affect happenings far, far away.
For that matter, doing research on fear should have meant lots of measurements; they had none of this. It’s as if Liam Neeson’s character was not the psychology professor he said he was, but the movie makes clear from the opening scene that he was. They just squandered all of the possibilities for exciting research tasks, measurements, and mystery, except for the ultra-exciting task of filling out forms at the beginning.
Now, it may seem from the preceding paragraphs that I disliked the movie. Except for the CGI at the end, I didn’t. It was enjoyable, especially, surprisingly, Owen Wilson’s turn as the most normal character in a movie. Part of why I liked it, I think, is that I went into the movie thinking it was a ripoff of Hill House, not expecting a psychological thriller on par with Shirley Jackson’s book. If I had known from the beginning that this was an adaptation, I probably would have been more disappointed.
Go into it with that mindset, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy this flawed but fun movie. The plot is muddy and the direction unfocused, but there’s a chemistry between the actors that makes it worth watching if you enjoy haunted house ensembles.
Especially with Owen Wilson involved, this looks a lot like a bunch of adventurers unknowingly spending the night in a haunted house.
In response to Horror Houses: What to do when your house hates you? These movies will help you relate.