AUGUST 24, 2010
Not only is The Haunting a generic title, it’s also one that’s associated with what is considered one of the best all time haunted house films (the Robert Wise one) as well as one of the worst (the 1999 remake). This one falls in the middle, but closer to the good one, for after a shaky start, its actually much more interesting than I expected, with a decent twist and a chilling back-story that tackles one of my favorite topics: the church covering something up.
It’s not about molesting though; but rather some murders committed long ago to hide the truth about some children seeing the Virgin Mary inside a school. The story is revealed via flashbacks as well as some super 8 films called 'No-Do's (No-Do was the original title, go figure), which are documentary pieces that are not available for public viewing. Whether these things are real or not, I don’t know (I am writing sans internet connection and wont have it long enough to go googling about – I’m basically copy pasting the reviews into blogspot and heading back to the festivities here in London), but it’s a far more interesting technique than having someone looking at old news clippings in a dusty library, like usual, or worse, having someone just explain the entire story under duress. I wish director/writer Elio Quiroga had laid off using the “old tyme film” transition before the No-Dos had even been introduced in the story, however – it got annoying, fast.
Especially because it’s in those early parts of the film that the transitions are most oft-used, and that’s also when the film itself is on thin ice. See, it’s one of those movies where they introduce every character back to back in unrelated scenes, which is sort of annoying to me. I prefer knowing who the main character is and letting the story (and thus, their involvement with the other characters) happen to them along with us. Instead, it’s like “Here are a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated people doing a bunch of different things. Later, we’ll explain why you should care.” And of course, being on a plane didn’t help – with so many distractions (including the majority of “plane sounds” that my headphones couldn’t drown out – luckily the movie wasn’t in English so I had to read everything anyway), it was even harder to concentrate on this first act, as I felt like I was being jostled around by the movie just as much as the turbulence.
Plus, the scenes with the mom are a bit too clichéd, as her and her family move into a new home, she starts hearing things in the baby’s room, seeing things, etc. Oh and there’s a family tragedy that has left her a bit frazzled, and causes tension in her marriage. It’s the type of stuff we’ve seen in zillions of other horror movies (including some other imports, like The Shadow Within and Baby's Room – both of which I was reminded of more than once or twice).
Once the characters we’ve met start interacting, the film picks up considerably, mainly because the film’s most interesting character (Héctor Colomé) takes on a more prominent role. He’s a priest/shrink that investigates claims of supernatural occurrences, and he is neither a complete skeptic nor unshakable believer. And that’s good, because the mom is the only one seeing the ghostly apparitions and such might just be crazy, so it helps prolong the answer a bit. And, without spoiling much, the movie sort of has it both ways, so skeptics/believers alike can enjoy the film’s revelations!
It’s got some decent scares and creepy images as well. I particularly liked the room full of hanging mannequin/doll feet and hands (people would hang a body part representative of one on their person that ailed them – i.e. if you had carpal tunnel, like I might get using this annoying laptop, you’d hang up a hand and pray). And maybe it was just because the small portable DVD screen didn’t have the best color/contrast, but the CG ghosts (including a spider-like thing made up of said doll parts) all looked quite good. I was surprised to see so many CG elements, since most Spanish horror films opt for atmosphere and subtle scares over eye-catching visuals, so the fact that they looked good was an even nicer surprise. I thought they’d be bad at it due to a lack of practice!
So I guess it’s not too surprising that the making of (the disc’s only feature) focuses heavily on post production: effects, color timing, etc. The piece as a whole is a bit too clip-heavy, so until they get to this stuff it’s a bit boring (now that I think about it, it’s paced like the film itself), but I enjoyed the deeper than usual look at these oft un-appreciated aspects of post production. And it’s a good film to use as an example for the color timing stuff, as the movie has a terrific, high contrast/low light look that required a lot of coloring (we see a lot of before and after shots) – I wish more making of features were edited in a way that allowed for the film’s best assets to be explored in depth, while skimming over the less interesting aspects (i.e., the casting process).
It’s interesting that the only two Fango Frightfest entries that I’ve liked so far are both Spanish imports about haunted buildings/children. I hope once I watch all eight that I don’t still feel the same, since none of the others fit that description. Unless Pig Hunt has a remarkably misleading title and box cover…
What say you?