The Haunting uses a classic horror plot device: a group of strangers are trapped in an isolated location and are susceptible to the supernatural force around them. They have to get out before it's too late, but said force keeps them from leaving.
In this particular case, the group of people consist of psychology professor Dr. Jeffrey Marrow (Liam Neeson) (who allegedly is doing a study on insomnia but is really looking at the dynamics of fear) and his experimental subjects who have difficult sleeping: Eleanor Lance (Lili Taylor), a single young woman who has spent most of her taking care of her recently deceased mother; Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a bisexual; and Luke Sannerson (Owen Wilson). The location is Hill House, a mansion belonging to the late Hugh Crane, believed by the locals to be haunted by the ghosts of the children who died working in Crane's sweatshop that he ran. Within the crowd of these motley dysfunctionals, it is Eleanor who holds the key to unlocking the Hill House's mysteries and freeing the souls of the trapped children.
The movie is great because there are some comic moments here, some even intentional. The unintentional moments arise because of the cheesiness of the plot and effects. The movie is scary at times, particularly at the beginning but peters out the end when the face of the evil within Hill House is exposed to us deliberately and slowly (unlike in the 1963 classic and Shirley Jackson's novel). The main problem is the lack of suspense. Rather than shock us, Director Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) shows us everything: eerie ghosts floating around, statues coming to life, and the evil that is Hugh Crane, but all this does is remove the suspense within the story.
The movie tries to be serious by touching upon various intriguing aspects to the characters' lives, but doesn't linger upon them to do any character development (for example, it's mentioned that Theodora is bisexual, but to what end?). The set is magnificent and the sound track has its moments. One particularly scary moment involves Eleanor sifting through the ashes in the fireplace and being surprised by a human skull, and one particularly hilarious moment occurs when Luke's head is taken off (in the same location) and Marrow winces. The acting is passable, with Wilson doing an extremely bad job, but well-suited to generate a few laughs.
The Haunting is a fun movie---it made me laugh out a lot and there very a few times when I jumped. It's B-grade entertainment that's worth that matinee fare.