Film Review: 'Haunted' (1995): Classy, Forgotten Ghost Story

in #film4 months ago (edited)

Haunted (1995), directed by Lewis Gilbert, based on the novel by James Herbert; starring Aidan Quinn, Kate Beckinsale, Anthony Andrews, Anna Massey, Alex Lowe, and John Gielgud.

With a cast of heavy hitters, an executive producer credit for Francis Ford Coppola, and direction by the esteemed Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita, the original Alfie), this film should be better known. However, it seems to be mostly forgotten, and the official DVD appears to be out of print and pricey ($98 on Amazon!). Which is a shame, since it’s a lovely film with classy production values and some very creepy moments.

Aidan Quinn is at the top of his career here, playing a blue-eyed heartthrob with a painful past named David Ash. As a boy, David gave his twin sister Juliette a jocular push when both were playing out in the woods; she hit her head on a stone, fell unconscious into a pond, and drowned in a thicket of reeds.

After a flashback showing how Juliette died, the story moves ahead from Edwardian times to the mid-1920s. We learn that David’s Anglo-American family moved to the U.S. after Juliette was buried, but he’s now returned to England to take up a professorship in psychology at a prestigious British university. In his spare time, he devotes his efforts to debunking psychic scammers who prey on the bereaved. During one such session, he exposes a fake medium playing a very obvious scam — except that the medium does have some talent after all. She falls unconscious after being exposed and mentions David’s sister and the name “Ed Brook.”

David thinks nothing of this display, until his assistant later reminds him of a persistent correspondent who desperately wants his help. The correspondent is an elderly lady, Miss Webb, who is living at a remote estate in Sussex called “Edbrook,” and who complains of being haunted by spiteful spirits. His curiosity piqued, David agrees to travel to Edbrook to check out her story.

He’s met at the train station by a beautiful young woman named Christina Mariell (Beckinsale), who is a member of the family that owns Edbrook. She explains that David’s elderly correspondent is the Mariell family’s former nanny, whom she affectionately calls "Nanny Tess."

Christina invites David to stay a few days at Edbrook, and they begin a flirtation when she casually strips down in front of him and goes skinning-dipping at Edbrook’s lake.

He later meets her two brothers, Robert (Andrews, who's made a whole career out of playing decadent British aristocrats), and the witless Simon (Lowe). He also meets Nanny Tess (Massey), who seems oddly distressed whenever she’s in the presence of the Mariells. Eventually, the Mariells call in a local doctor, Dr. Doyle, played by John Gielgud, to treat Nanny Tess's anxiety. She seems unaccountably terrified of Dr. Doyle also.

The more David gets to know the Mariells, the stranger they appear. He uncovers some of their dark secrets, and consults Dr. Doyle himself, as David keeps seeing glimpses of his deceased sister hanging around Edbrook and is disturbed by these sightings. He also continues his romantic flirtation with Christina, even as her elder brother, Robert, exhibits a strong hostility to David.

Eventually, after more creepy incidents with the Mariells and Nanny Tess, David uncovers the ultimate secret of Edbrook — one which has a similar revelation as the more famous films, The Sixth Sense and The Others. Yes, Dear Readers, there are characters in this film who are dead, although the story misleads viewers into thinking that they are alive. It seems important to note that Haunted, released in 1995, got there first with this now-familiar horror trope, four years before Sixth Sense and six years before The Others.

The story may meander too much for some viewers, which may be why it gets only a 6.2 viewer rating from IMDb. However, the technical features are stunning. The cinematography is Merchant-Ivoryish (in fact, the films was shot by double Oscar nominee, Tony Pierce-Roberts, who shot Merchant-Ivory’s most famous offerings). And the absolutely gorgeous score by Debbie Wiseman is worth the watch by itself. The authentic setting is a lavish Tudor estate,Parham House in Sussex, which looks like heaven for fans of Downton Abbey.

I feel Haunted is underrated by IMDb reviewers and deserves at least a rating of 7/10. I couldn't find it streaming currently, but it does appear on Netflix sometimes. The disc is expensive unless you can find a cheaper bootleg on Ebay.

Cross-posted from Movies and TV Shows Community.