AUGUST 3, 2012
When you've starred in one of the most acclaimed and influential horror films of all time, it's probably pretty easy to turn horror scripts down - why bother? So when Rosemary's Baby star Mia Farrow DOES appear in a horror film, it's probably worth a look (or it's The Omen remake. But come on, after forty years she's allowed to slum for a paycheck), so I was excited to see The Haunting Of Julia pop up on Instant (especially since it's apparently not available on DVD). Not only was I in the mood for something in the ghost genre, but I was all but assured high quality, being that it was one of the very few she made post-Rosemary.
Well obviously it's not as good, or else it'd be getting name-checked every time someone asks an A-list actor if they like horror movies and they say "Yeah, I like things like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist", because they know those are safe answers no one can argue with or suspect that they have any real affinity for the genre (how awesome would it be to hear Charlize Theron or Keira Knightley be like "I love things like The Burning and Stepfather 2"). But it's a solid little chiller, telling a fine mystery of a murdered child with a winning blend of "is she crazy or is there a ghost?" intrigue that (spoiler) is never actually answered - you can go with either option at the end and it will hold up, I think. Some of the deaths might take a bit more creativity to explain, but if you consider what you DON'T see during all of them, I think it works.
I also liked how they paced the mystery, more or less confining it to the 2nd act but not where it was too late to explain things properly. At first, it's just a traditional haunting type story, with Farrow seeing things and having to chalk it up to her personal tragedy (the death of her child), only for others to get drawn into the mix. The film's best scare goes unnoticed by any of its characters, in fact - Farrow's estranged husband (Keir Dullea) is snooping around her house and thinks she is the one making noises, and we see the reflection of the ghost (?) run past while he looks in another direction.
The only issue with the pacing is that the bulk of the 3rd act consists of Farrow going to see elderly people (the child in question was murdered nearly 40 years prior), explaining who she is, upsetting them in some way, and being scared off or forced to leave by their caretaker (which all but one such character has). Also, the death heavy 2nd half has another issue, particularly with Dullea - no one seems to notice his absence. We see him with another character often, and we can assume he has friends or family, but even though he dies around the halfway point or so, no one ever calls on Farrow asking if he's been seen. For a movie grounded in reality, it's a strange oversight, even if you go with the theory that she's doing all of this stuff herself.
Oh, and maybe it was a real headline, but seeing "Hitler Keeps The Peace" splashed across the top of the paper that has the story about the murdered boy is a bit of an odd choice. I assume it was to remind us of the pre-WWII environment, but as the movie is about a murdered German child, it's an awkward way to do so. Speaking of this scene, who else misses library scenes in horror/thriller films? Someone Googling shit just isn't the same.
Curious, has anyone read the novel by Peter Straub? From what I understand, Dullea's character was far more significant there, but otherwise it sounds fairly similar. Not that I'd ever find time to read it, but it sounds like a decent page-turner, and getting into Julia's head a bit might answer some questions (for better or worse). Speaking of the novel - the adaptation was by Harry Bromley Davenport, best known for blessing us with Xtro (and damning us with its sequels). Interestingly, it's the only writing credit he has for a movie he didn't direct himself (Richard Loncraine, who would go on to give us the tedious Harrison Ford "thriller" Firewall, handled directing duties here), so I wonder if he was up to direct at one point. Loncraine does a fine job though, and kudos to whoever came up with having the end credits over the closing shot - it's creepy as hell.
Final note - the original title sort of gives the ending away once you know what's going on, so it's good that they changed it.
What say you?