The Haunting is the a blockbuster special effects movie that, while falling short of all it could be, does manage to satisfy the viewer with a good old fashion ride. The story centers on a young woman, Eleanor, which is being thrown out of the apartment she shared with her disabled mother for many years. Now that Mom is dead, Eleanors sister and brother-in-law want to kick Neil out and sell the place. Of course, the offer Neil a job as a maid to help her out. It seems that Neils family would be very at home on the Springer show. Out of nowhere Neil gets a phone call which suggests she looks in the paper for an aid to be a research subject in a sleep disorder study. Cut from here to the university where a professor that ran the ad is really doing a study of fear not insomnia. A strange group all meet in a large, bizarre house that one character aptly describes as a cross between Charles Foster Kane and the Munsters.
Eleanor is well played by Lili Talyor, an excellent character actress who has been growing into better roles ever since her debut in Mystic Pizza. Another insomniac is Theo, a manic bi-sexual portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Next, there is the professor (Liam Neeson) and the third case study Luke (Owen Wilson). Rounding out the cast are actors that provide little more than filler. Taylor really seemed to be working the role. She provides enough energy to her performance to carry the film. This is actually beneficial since Neeson seemed to have phoned in his role. He does not have much to say in the movie and seems all to restricted throughout. Ms Zeta-Jones is also under utilized. She is little more than something to look at (which fortunately is not difficult). Her role is composed almost solely of costume changes and running after Neil to see what the trouble has most recently developed. The problem is not with the excellent actors in this film but is the fault of the writer. Potentially interesting side stories are started, hinted at and then not developed. The animosity between Neil and her sister is there for a minute and then gone. The sexual tension that starts between Theo and Neil is started and then left to fade. An assistant is injured during the first few hours in the house and then we hear nothing further about her. The writer did not do his job in creating real characters that would hold the interest of the audience.
What does hold your attention is the house itself. The special effects team did a fantastic job of creating a gothic house that is almost organic. Windows turning into eyes, ghosts moving under the sheets and beds attacking are all done with great attention to detail. Director Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) knows how to keep the pace moving in a movie. He does manage to make the lack of plot and characters secondary to the incredible special effects.
The DVD is excellent. The anamorphic video transfer is top notch. You can see every little detail of sets. The effects are seamlessly integrated with the live action. There are no compression artifacts and the change over to the second layer is politely placed at the boundary between two chapters. The sound is what makes this movie. The Dolby 5.1 sound field places you dead center in the action. The noises, creaks, groans, and crashes enfold you. They transport you from your living room right into this gothic horror of a house. The extras include a Making of featurette that was previous shown on cable. When all is said and done, this movie is not what it could have been but it is perfect for a dark night.