The Haunting (1999)

dir. Jan de Bont

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has proved itself successful fodder for screen adaptations, from the 1963 movie The Haunting through to the 2018 TV series The Haunting of Hill House. Unfortunately, 1999’s cinematic iteration managed to produce the antithesis of these retellings: it is devoid of likeable characters, devoid of scares, and devoid of anything which makes much sense at all. In all versions, a group of people are brought together to Hill House; for some reason 1999’s The Haunting decides that paranormal investigator Dr Marrow (Liam Neeson) has bamboozled his guests into attending by claiming it’s a sleep study, and not to investigate the paranormal. This change contributes nothing, and is especially aggravating because the film clearly shows such events as pianos attacking people and ghosts emerging from net curtains; how the majority of the characters can still blindly think it’s a mere sleep study is anybody’s guess. The characters themselves never rise beyond caricature: Nell (Lili Taylor) is wan, shy and awkward; Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is flamboyant and so overtly flirtatious she may as well scream “I’m bisexual!” in every scene she’s in; and Luke (Owen Wilson) primarily spends his scenes wide-eyed and slack-jawed. The terrible CGI only accentuates that The Haunting is a cheap attempt to tell a story as lazily as possible by sacrificing all hints of depth.

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