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DVD Review: The Haunting (2009)

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Beginning with “archival” footage designed to reinforce the idea that what the audience is witnessing is based on historical fact, The Haunting is a combination of stimulating cinematography paired with what must be the worst dubbing of the 21st century. There is no doubt that this film, released in Spain with the title No-Do: The Beckoning, would be better viewed in the original Spanish with English subtitles.

A woman, newly awakened from a 60-year lethargic encephalitis coma, is released from an asylum that is being closed. Creepy flashbacks on grainy film inform us that something strange and supernatural happened some time in the past. The audience is then brought to a modern maternity hospital and the beginning of the story of a doctor, her husband, daughter, and new baby moving into a beautiful country home in Spain that had once been the summer home of a recently deceased bishop. The basement and loft areas of this palatial residence are off limits due to “restoration.”

A variety of flashback techniques are employed, which serve to confuse the viewer. With fuzzy memories, newsreel footage, and flashbacks that look no different than the rest of the story, it’s not easy to determine what is happening, and what has happened in The Haunting. Parallel story lines add to the confusion. Although the audience is certain that the doctor and her family’s situation will somehow tie in with two priests’ discussion of a whore who performed miracles and the woman released from the asylum, and that the house will play a key role in the drama, there is so much happening with no explanation that it seems disjointed and incohesive.

Soon after moving into the house the wife begins hearing strange, loud noises, the young daughter is haunted by bad dreams, and a presence seems to make itself known. Specters and spirits abound. Early in the film there are too many questions, too many mysteries. Why, for example, does the daughter appear only in scenes with the mother, and not the father? Why is the baby always left alone in his crib? Those questions, added to the already confusing storyline, baffle the audience, while most of the dubbing is laughably inept, thereby providing viewers with a schizoid cinema experience.

What seemed brilliant cinematography in the insane asylum (helped by the decaying building itself) becomes nicely moody and atmospheric in scenes shot in and around the family’s new home, and ho-hum everywhere else. The actors, required to look morose throughout most of the film, succeed, but the quality of acting is unfathomable because of the terrible dubbing.

Interesting special effects and a general creepiness do little to offset The Haunting’s flaws. As it progresses, elements are introduced that have no meaning, actions are taken that make no sense, and conclusions are reached based on conjecture. It’s a pity that wonderful imagery and interesting ideas are wasted or undermined by awful dubbing. Would this film, in fact, have been better undubbed? It couldn’t have been worse.

The Haunting will be released under the Fangoria Frightfest Banner, in conjunction with Lightning Media, on September 28. No special features have been announced for inclusion in the DVD.

Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream The Haunting? Only if I could see the original Spanish film with English subtitles.

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