The fairytale-like teaser trailer for this latest interpretation of The Haunting was so seductively eerie that you couldn't be blamed for becoming excited. Alas, the movie itself doesn't deliver on this promise: it's neither eerie nor seductive - in fact, it's a sore disappointment.
DreamWorks' horror-home chiller is based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, The Haunting Of Hill House, which was adapted for the screen once before in 1963 by Robert Wise. Those were the hey-days of cine-psychoanalysis, and that version (considered a masterpiece at the time, and still pretty effective now) was essentially a study of sexual repression. It saw lesbian Theo aggressively flirting with the oblivious Eleanor, who's terrified of her awakening sexual passion towards the married doctor. That fear, heightened by labyrinthine corridors and mysterious noises (which never fully materialised into ghosts), formed the film's driving force.
But the '90s is the era of CGI and empty remakes, so Speed director Jan De Bont's version has drained the original plot of its psychological juices for the sake of a simple ghost story, driven by mostly cheesy (though costly) special effects. It starts like the original, but The Haunting soon gives up any attempt to create a dynamic between the leads, and goes for money shots of living statues and ghosts creeping under the sheets. It's like a remake of Psycho in which Mother is turned into the Wicked Witch Of The West (of course, nobody would ever be silly enough to try remaking Psycho...)
None of the characters is really interested in the others, which in turn leads to the audience's total lack of interest in any of them. We know Theo (Zeta Jones) is a bisexual because she says so as soon as she comes in. She also wears really cool clothes, and that's about it. Eleanor (Taylor, looking very much like Julie Harris in the earlier version) has a bit more to do, trying to save the souls of the dead children trapped in the house. But transforming her from a delicate soul into a Jedi knight, winning a sword fight with a statue, was not the way to go. It's ridiculous, but not deliciously so. And Liam Neeson hasn't even been mentioned yet because he's simply not worth mentioning.
The only one whose work from this should feature on his CV is production designer Eugenio Zanetti, who has created a house that looms with gothic hyperbole. But impressive sets, such as the room of mirrors, are completely wasted by ex-cinematographer De Bont. The camera moves up, down and into objects, as if telling us when to be afraid - but we never are. And that's the worst thing you can say about a horror film.
Watch the trailer
Screenwriter David Self probably aimed for high camp, but he forgot to tell the director. What might have worked if it was played for laughs is just plain boring. With lacklustre effects and no atmosphere, this is a horror that horrifies in the wrong way.