Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Haunting (2009)

Moving to the outskirts never helped anyone's health

This gradually paced supernatural film from Spain gives a little twist on its own history and unfolds with a leaning more for human drama than popcorn entertainment. "The Haunting" is also a deeply involved mystery with several, sometimes cluttered layers that eventually narrow into a main point. It gives more subtle hints than outright telling the viewer what is going on at first to the point of a tinkle or a text message later and you could have missed a key element till they re-explain in the latter portion of the film.

Blanca is found barely alive by priests in a room with others dead around her. She awakens from a coma at an elderly age and gets released by a priest named Miguel de Azpeitia in the sanatorium she's been cared for at. Azpeitia picks up an old film clipping on the ground that Blanca dropped and confronts another priest about feeling guilty for sinning from a prior incident involving a prostitute who could produce miracles but was locked away against her will, only to end up killing herself. Meanwhile a maternity ward doctor named Francesca moves with her husband Pedro, months old baby Pablo and daughter Rosa to a large country manor that was used by a recently deceased bishop called Juan Lorenzo Prada but was a school some 50 years before that. Her husband is worried about her obsessively protective nature of the baby. He's at work while she stays home on leave, only for her to become worse and worse when she claims to hear unexplainable noises and has random hallucinations of little girls that lead her to the attic where something of a dark nature happened. The daughter and Blanca confirm her suspicions, though her husband and boss think that it's her mental health causing her to act erratic from someone lost that was close to her ten years past. Francesca believes differently and contacts Azpeitia through Blanca who looks into it with an investigation to unlock the truth and to possibly absolve himself from his past sin.

"The Haunting" deals with religious politics and hypocrisy in how saints come to be named and miracles made official to the public. The behind the scenes process is selective to the point of manipulation and misconduct. The film is also about letting go of someone from your past, along with trust from mother to son, to then husband to wife even when the odds are stacked against. The movie has some predictability and more than a few cliches but it also manages to throw in some unique qualities and red herrings to its story--some confusing, others a nice diversion--to where it will go next. Though it doesn't always treat its material as edge-of-your-seat gripping or more dangerous when something bad does happen. It seems like Francesca is more helped and warned than harmed to the point of dodging any physically threatening elements and aiming more towards righting those wronged. There are still a few confrontations but the film is more laid back in its delivery of how it gradually unfolds with a sense for drama and mystery than outright horror. It still gives enough pauses and layers to give room to think and develop even if it lacks a continually nervous or jarring nature. The acting--in Spanish--is adequate and believable but the weaving story and well-timed direction seem to be doing a little more of the leg work than having them lug this solely on their backs.

This carries a formula of the upstarting-family-moves-into-a-haunted-house subgenre--ominous signs, local priest, random appearances with ghosts pointing in certain directions instead of telling what they want, along with writing in blood on the walls and all--but it comes with its own individual backstory and characters that feel like people instead of devices put into scenarios to just produce a scream. This is a borderline case of an R rating with one sexually suggestive situation and a few scenes involving blood. Ghost fans just looking to turn their hair white might be disappointed as this isn't outright terrifying as it's more made to be steadily evolving and intriguing with more revelations than sensations. This still has a few chills and a certain secretive atmosphere that's for your eyes only till the truth is unlocked...but can it ever really be with such powerful opposition on both sides of the fence? There are some eerie sounding choirs accompanied with an organ that can be heard in the background that are more demonic than divine sounding. This uses a neat idea to connect scenes of past and present with old, scratchy film reels from the Franco era that gives a little twist on Spanish history that can be appreciated by others not from said country as well.

Rating: 7/10

Director: Elio Quiroga (The Dark Hour)
Link: IMDB

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