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Psychologist Dr. David Marrow invites three insomniacs to a creepy old mansion under the false pretense of a "sleeplessness study." (The subjects: Nell, a mousy, yet good-hearted caregiver; Theo, a brazen, bisexual cosmo girl; and Luke, the boyish cynic with a dry wit.) Employing a complete disregard for professional ethics, Marrow actually intends to plant fears in their minds and monitor their responses to fright. Little does he know that the site he has chosen for his experimental retreat will more than fit the bill. It turns out that the long-deceased owner, textile baron Hugh Crain, still inhabits the sprawling gothic residence along with the tormented souls of children he exploited to the point of death in his 19th century sweat shops. Wishing only to rest in peace, the preadolescent spirits start calling to Nell who, unbeknownst to her, has a unique relationship with them. Warning - Major Plot Point Revealed: It turns out that Crain was Nell's great, great grandfather and only she can set things right because she's "family." But the closer Nell gets to understanding who she is and what she must do, the more irritated and ornery the evil forces indwelling Hill House get.
Positive Elements: The movie condemns cruelty to children. Nell's character is very maternal, having willingly sacrificed for more than a decade to care for her ill mother before she died. In the film's climax, Nell makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to fulfill her destiny and help the abused children's spirits enter heaven (note spiritual problems below).
Spiritual Content: Lots of supernatural spooks. In fact, biblical theology gets worked over by occultism. Souls in purgatory (somehow caught between the living and the dead) are in need of rescue by the paranormally sensitive Nell. The mansion is possessed by an evil personality with a diabolical history. Sculptures and other art portray people—mostly children—tortured in a state of spiritual limbo. A child's ghost passes through Nell. Other young specters meander through curtains, bed sheets and inhabit carved busts. When Crane's hooded ghost bursts forth, he is told by Nell, "You go to Hell!" which he apparently does.
Sexual Content: As soon as the free-spirited Theo shows up at the mansion, she declares her bisexuality and proceeds to flirt with Nell (according to Entertainment Weekly, additional scenes exploring this lesbian attraction were left on the cutting room floor). The shapely Theo appears in a negligee.
Violent Content: A man is dragged into a pond and nearly drowned by a statue. Poltergeists slowly dismantle a towering spiral staircase as a person tries to climb it. A man is dragged into an idle fireplace before being beheaded by a ferocious pendulum. Nell is pinned to her bed by talon-like bedposts. A piano string snaps mysteriously, nearly putting out a woman's eye. Nell has a grisly vision of a woman hanging from the rafters with a noose around her neck. Also, exploding windows, ominous shadows, bloody footprints, human bones in the fireplace, tales of tragic deaths and other assorted frights give the film a high creepiness quotient.
Crude or Profane Language: Garden variety. No f-words, but several crude expressions and mild profanities. Most disturbing were more than a dozen exclamatory uses of the Lord's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content: Luke pops sleeping pills. Theo sings the praises of barbiturates.
Other Negative Elements: Some viewers may find the haunted house itself oppressive..
Summary: While not terrifying and overly gory, this creepy tale isn't exactly the family-friendly film its director would have you believe. According to De Bont, "It was a little hard to get a PG-13. They basically said it was too tense. So we trimmed a couple of things. This is a movie that kids can see." Don't believe it. Twisted spirituality, blasphemous uses of God's name, an approving wink at bisexuality and a few violent scenes make The Haunting one to avoid.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Lili Taylor as Nell; Liam Neeson as Dr. David Marrow; Catherine Zeta-Jones as Theo; Owen Wilson as Luke; Bruce Dern as Mr. Dudley