Main cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones (Theodora), Lily Taylor (Eleanor), Liam Neeson (Dr Jeffrey Marrow), Owen Wilson (Luke), Marian Seldes (Mrs Dudley), Bruce Dern (Mr Dudley), Alix Koromzay (Mary Lambetta), Todd Field (Todd Hackett), Virginia Madsen (Jane Vance), Tom Irwin (Lou), and Charles Gunning (Hugh Crain)
Director: Jan de Bont
Talk about a waste of nice atmosphere. The haunted mansion in this movie looks wonderful. Large, roomy, creepy, the house is a perfect haunted mansion. So it is a total waste that the movie script is shoved down the drain by bad acting, bad direction that goes nowhere, and ghosts that look like they are made out of those Play-Doh mould game thingies. Memo to Catherine Zeta-Jones: many people think you are the ultimate Viagra on feet, they’d see you even if you act in a toilet bowl commercial, but I think you’re really letting your career go downhill with this lousy movie. And memo to Liam Neeson: good luck in your retirement; I understand you will need time to recover. Memo to Jan de Bont: keep the day job.
Dr Marrow (haha) is a naughty scientist. He wants to study what people do when they are terrified, so he pretend that he’s conducting a sleep experiment in a well-known haunted house and offers lucky people $900 a week plus lodging and shelter. Eventually hey, guess what? The house is haunted, and our heroine Eleanor finds herself battling the ghost of an ancestor to save some kiddie ghosts. Fun.
Now, I must say that Mr Neeson’s performance here – as if he’s sleepwalking – makes his role in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace look like an Oscar-worthy role. Here he doesn’t speak, he mutters most blandly. Ms Zeta-Jones’s Theodora starts out a fun bisexual artist with a tangled up love life, but as the minutes pass, she’s turned into just another beautiful, screaming bimbo. Owen Wilson’s Luke is totally insignificant, existing only to die. So that leaves Eleanor to carry the weight of the story.
And I can’t stand Eleanor. Whatever depths her character has – a timid woman who spent her life looking after her ailing mother, and now having to find her strength to save the children ghosties’ souls – are totally ruined by Lily Taylor’s vacant-eyed, one-expression look that never changes. Not one bit. She goes around wringing her hands, muttering greeting card mumbo-jumbo, all the while sporting that teary-eyed vacant look that I find really irritating… ugh.
Is the movie scary? No. There’s no build-up of momentum, just the special effects people shoving silly apparitions down my throat, backed by really loud music. Jan de Bont directs a horror movie as if he’s directing some music video.
So that’s it. The Haunting is scary only its ability to draw in big box-office numbers. What next? The Haunting 2: Barney Strikes Back!?