Sunday, October 10, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: Haunted (1995)

So...the British really know how to tell a ghost story, in my opinion. Based on the novel by James Herbert, the 1995 film Haunted benefits from authentic locations, a coherent plot, good acting, and an excellent score by Debbie Wiseman which really ties everything together.

Before we even get to the opening credits, we are shown an idyllic summer afternoon in Sussex, England. It's 1905, and as a mother plays a beautiful melody on the piano, she watches out the window as her two children, twins David and Juliet, chase each other through the yard. Playing a little too close to a nearby pond, the girl accidentally falls in and struggles to get out. Unfortunately, even though David jumps into the water, he can't manage to find her through all the marshy weeds. Juliet drowns, leaving David with a lifetime of guilt.

Flash-forward to 1928. David (Aidan Quinn) is a professor of parapsychology at a respected university, spending his days attempting to disprove the existence of ghosts.

One night, he sets out to expose a woman working as a psychic, and sits in on the session. After playing along for a bit, even pretending that his mother is dead and that the psychic is speaking to her from beyond the grave, he jumps up and reveals her as the fraud she is.
Only trouble is, she bizarrely starts murmuring about someone named Ed Brook, and then speaks out in his dead sister Juliet's voice.
Utterly rattled, he leaves, only to see something he can't explain on the empty street. He rushes home uneasily.

David has just published a book which despite being very well received, has brought all the whack-jobs out of the woodwork. People have been showering him with letters - requests to come chase away their supposed ghosts. One desperate soul in particular refuses to give up, begging him to investigate her supposedly haunted home. After hearing from his secretary that the estate is called Edbrook, he's too freaked out not to go.

At the train station, David is met by Christina (Kate Beckinsale), who is there to escort him to the house. Driving like a complete maniac, Christina explains on the way there that the letter was written by her nanny, who's apparently gone off the deep end and just needs some reassurance from a "professional" that there are no ghosts lurking about.

While certainly beautiful on the outside, Edbrook Manor is full of odd eccentricities, not the least of which are Christina's two brothers Robert and Alex. It's easy to see that something not quite right is going on in the house, but David can't put his finger on it. Exploring the house, David finds some paintings of Christina that were done by brother Robert, and David's suspicions gather more validity when he sees the painting are nudes. Awkward!
He also finds a room that is locked, and after asking Christina about it finds out that it was her parents' room. They died on a trip to India and Nanny Tess can't seem to get past it and has kept the room as a shrine for years. Nanny claims that the children's mother comes back every single night to roam about the property.

The first few nights, David hears some weird knocking and doors rattling, and blames it on the younger brother Alex's jokester tendencies. Alex, in turn, blames it on rats. David sets up various "traps", including a camera, to try to capture a ghost. He doesn't actually believe he will see anything, but does it to try to show Nanny Tess he's making an attempt on his promise.
Nanny, on the other hand, is seen at various times throughout film talking to 'someone', obviously stressed out and struggling to maintain her sanity. Certainly she believes in ghosts.

Christina's brothers seem to have a strange - no, downright creepy - attachment to her, in particular Robert, who orders her about like she is a Stepford wife or something. But when we witness Alex and Christina swimming naked in the lake, it's obvious things are weird all around.

On one occasion when David and Christina go out riding and stay out too long, Robert has a shit-fit - yelling at her about missing dinner and strictly saying she needs to go to bed.
Um, okay.

Things on the paranormal front continue to escalate, with David beginning to see his dead sister outright, and she seems to be warning him against staying at Edbrook. One night, while tending his camera contraption outside, he sees something he can't believe - a whisp of wind that takes form, swirling about and leading David down to the dock at the lake. The wind picks up and when he can't stand against it, it basically tosses him in the lake, where he very nearly drowns. Rescued by Christina, he dares to admit that something supernatural is definitely happening.

He seeks the advice of Dr. Doyle (John Gielgud), a local psychiatrist who has been a family friend for years. Doyle tries to tell him that memories are a powerful thing that can affect the mind in all kinds of ways, even manifesting a hallucination such as the one David experienced. He eases his mind and even recommends that Christina might be a fine distraction for him.

Already escalating, the flirting between David and Christina reaches new heights and when he tries to get her to leave Edbrook with him she refuses, stating her brother Robert would never allow it. When David happens upon Robert and Christina in an inappropriate embrace it is revealed, finally, what has been obvious since David arrived. The two are in an incestuous relationship.
While that would make most men stop and run away, David has been unable to resist Christina from the get-go and when she comes to him they fall into bed. For those who might be interested, the sex scene really holds nothing back, especially in the clothing department. (While I have no idea if a body double was used in the film, it certainly looks realistic.)

What happens to David when he awakens the following morning is the high point of the film, which I really can't bring myself to reveal. It's worth picking this film up to see how it all plays out.

Haunted is a great ghost story for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it has something for everyone. When I say that, I mean you guys will want to watch if for nothing else than Kate Beckinsale, completely nude - and often.

While I won't say this film is scary, per se, it is a fine enough story to get a few shivers and does what it sets out to do: tell a spooky story with some twists and turns along the way. The sweeping English countryside and beautiful manor house bring so much to this film, and I have to say again how important the score is. The central melody is a stunning piano solo, and sticks in your head long after the final reel.

Again, another UK ghost story wins my approval, and should win yours as well.

No comments: