The Haunting
directed by Jon de Bont
(Dreamworks, 1999)

I thought this was a very good movie and am quite surprised to have read so many negative reviews of it. I am a horror fan and a Shirley Jackson fan, so I am not judging this movie in an intellectual vacuum.

It really does not bother me that the makers of this flick took Jackson's basic premise and went in a completely new direction with it. It would be all but impossible to dramatize Jackson's novel theatrically because the bulk of the story lies in the emotions, thoughts and fears of the characters, especially Eleanor. I felt that the film did a very good job of portraying the sad isolation and fragile emotions of Eleanor, and I liked the portrayal of the other characters.

Catherine Zeta Jones is wonderful as the complex Theo. With the exception of one short scene, Lili Taylor was a more than adequate Eleanor. The special effects, with the exception of a short hair-brushing scene, are excellent and well done; they do not, in my opinion, take precedence over the story but richly add to the atmosphere of the house. The ghostly manifestations are appropriately creepy, tastefully restrained and wonderfully subtle in detail.

The only flaws I found in the movie are probably the result of time constraints; more time was needed in order to adequately explain Eleanor's growing obsession with the house and her acceptance of the impressions coming from the spirits of the children "trapped" there.

The turning point, where Eleanor comes to understand the evils Hugh Crain committed in the house and magically discovers the existence of a second Crain wife, does not make adequate sense based on the facts shown to the viewer and thus cries out for further elucidation. The ending of the film is slightly unsatisfying yet somehow seems right and appropriate. While this movie is not really scary and does not reflect the much richer storyline of Jackson's original novel, it nonetheless strikes me as a surprisingly good, enjoyable movie, head and shoulders above most other films in the horror/suspense genre.

by Daniel Jolley
29 October 2005

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