DECEMBER 25, 2010
Merry Christmas everyone! Except to Haunted director Lewis Gilbert*, who managed to make a movie in which a naked Kate Beckinsale (well, a body double) makes out with her brother boring. Based on a James Herbert novel, the movie could have been decent at about 80 minutes, but at nearly 110, I had long since given up being invested in anything that was happening by the time, er, well, by the time anything actually happened.
Like several thousand ghost tales, our hero (Aidan Quinn) doesn’t believe in ghosts, and in keeping with this movie’s excessive pointlessness, this is clarified not once but twice, as we see him dismiss the idea of ghosts to his psychology class, and then again when he exposes a medium (who turns out to be not entirely fake after all). But he takes on a “case” where an old lady claims to be seeing ghosts in her big, standard period/British horror movie house. He is met by a young Beckinsale, who is the perfect woman and thus obviously the ghost.
But he doesn’t realize this until some 5000 hours into the movie. It’s one thing to be a step or two ahead of the main character, but it’s another to be several miles ahead of the guy. Plus, he obviously wants to hit it, and she him, and yet it takes the entire movie for them to finally go at it (with those body doubles, again – sigh). There’s even a scene where they almost kiss and get distracted by wind or something, yet they don’t pick up where they left off. No way. If Kate Beckinsale is about to ram her tongue down my throat, if there’s any distraction, I would be back in her personal space before you could say “cantaloupe” and asking “so where were we...?”
The incest angle is good for a few “hey-o!” moments, but they are too few and far between, as if the filmmakers were trying to retain it from the novel but hope you actually don’t catch it. Hell, even after Quinn sees her making out with the brother, he never confronts her about it. It’s kind of a problem when, during the big exposition scene at the end, we discover that it was their unusual relationship that kicked off all of the problems in the first place (they were caught by their mother, who killed herself, which is why the old woman – her sister – killed them). Because Quinn never asks her about it, it just carries no weight, especially when there’s a running theme of “is he seeing things or did they really happen?” in the movie.
The cast is also too small. Even if I hadn’t figured out the “twist” from the minute the characters were introduced, the movie would have trouble maintaining much suspense given the limited options. You know Quinn’s gonna be OK until the end, the old lady just sits in a chair the whole movie, and then there’s the trio of siblings, who all claim that the lady is seeing things, which means they’re in it together. John Gielgud pops up as a local doctor, but he’s kept out of the “action”, as is Quinn’s assistant. Including these folks in the actual movie (i.e. having them come to the house) would have livened things up a bit. Instead, it’s just an endless series of scenes where Beckinsale and Quinn almost screw around, get distracted, and then her brother says something snooty and Quinn goes off by himself and pretends to do something.
One thing the movie does surprisingly offer in abundance is fire and explosions! A car blows up, a gas leak or something causes a big explosion on the ceiling (think Backdraft), and Quinn gets trapped in not one but two infernos, rescued by ghosts both times. I was expecting a more atmospheric/subtle tale not unlike The Woman In Black, and for the most part it WAS, but every now and then it would turn into the Michael Bay version of this sort of thing.
Speaking of the fire, the DVD and IMDb both say that the film was shot 1.33:1 (full frame), but I’m not sure that’s correct. There’s a scene where Quinn discovers that the floor beneath him is seemingly concealing fire underneath its tiles, and when he sees a little flame coming up, he steps on it which makes another pop up a few feet away. But WE don’t see that, because it appears to be cropped out – there’s a cut to his reaction, and then they cut to a different angle allowing us to see it (and others that presumably just popped up). Yet you CAN see the faint glow of the flame on the tile. Plus, who the hell shoots an R rated (i.e. not TV friendly) movie in full frame? I would investigate, but I’d rather not spend any more time on Haunted. If you’re in the mood for a horror-lite, romantic ghost tale, I’d suggest The Eclipse, starring Ciarán Hinds and... hey, Aidan Quinn! It works better both as a romance AND as a ghost tale, and it’s about 20 minutes shorter to boot.
What say you?
*It's not too harsh - he also directed Moonraker. Dude's got a lot to make up for.