American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
To my surprise, I find myself recommending "The Haunting" on the basis of its locations, its sets, its art direction, its sound design, and the overall splendor of its visuals. The story is a mess, but for long periods of time that hardly matters. It's beside the point, as we enter one of the most striking spaces I've ever seen in a film.
That space is Hill House, the haunted manor selected by a psychology professor (Liam Neeson) for an experiment in the mechanics of fear. He recruits three people who are told they'll get help for insomnia, and installs them in the ornate and gloomy gothic pile, where alarming things start to happen immediately. We assume the frightening manifestations are manufactured by the professor (last name: Marrow), but perhaps not.
The three patients are played by Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. Prof. Marrow is joined by two assistants, but in one of the screenplay's several clumsy moves, one of them is injured during the first night, the other takes her to the hospital, and that's the last we ever see of them. Taylor's character, named Nell, is the key figure in the film, a woman whose life has been on hold until the ghosts of Hill House start to tell their story.
The exteriors of Hill House were shot at Harlaxton Manor in Nottinghamshire. Its architectural details look like a shriek from hell; now I know what a building looks like with its hair standing on end. (It's a bit of an anticlimax to discover that the building is currently used as a foreign campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana). The interiors I gather are mostly sets, although some of them are inspired by Harlaxton and Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.