Haunted is a bit of an oddity, in that it's based on a James Herbert novel but eschews Herbert's modern horror approach in favour of period drama. I'm not sure it entirely works, but it is at least interesting, not least thanks to an impressive cast and some solid production values.
The setup is familiar. Two young children are playing in the grounds of an English country house in 1905. The little girl suffers a terrible accident and dies. The surviving little boy grows up to be academic and renowned sceptic David Ash, an Anglo-American researcher who publishes a book debunking ghosts. The role is taken by Aiden Quinn, an actor who is not really suited to the role and who doesn't look too comfortable in it. In fact, much of the time he looks a bit concussed. But I suppose the logic - as in many a British movie - was that a US name was needed.
Anyway, Dr Ash demonstrates his sceptical credentials by taking part in a seance that exposes a fake medium. However, the apparent charlatan does offer a couple of baffling statements that - in due course - become significant. Then we cut a steam train pulling in at a rural station, because David Ash is off to Edbrook House to investigate an alleged haunting. This is at the behest of an elderly lady, Miss Webb (Anna Massey), who has been writing to our hero at regular intervals, and is seemingly becoming more and more disturbed.
When Ash arrives at Edbrook station, however, he is met Christina Mariell (Kate Beckinsale), who offers him a lift in a Bentley. Arriving at the hall Ash is surprised to find that 'Nanny Tess', as Miss Webb does not seem pleased to see him. He can get little sense out of her, whereas Christina and her brothers Robert and Simon (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe) seem the perfect hosts.
Strange things occur on Ash's first night at Edbrook. He puts these down to pranks, probably played by the boyish, easily-bored Robert. Anyway, the presence of the lovely Christina more than compensates for a bit of tomfoolery. But what is the matter with Miss Webb? Even the arrival of the kindly old family doctor (John Gielgud) can't seem to calm her down. And is Ash hallucinating when he thinks he glimpses his dead sister, Juliet, in and around the house?
Suffice to say that nothing is what it seems - not even the lovely furniture. And that, I think, is part of the problem. We are now used to the idea of 'real people' being ghosts, and vice-versa, so to say that this is a key aspect of Haunted doesn't give much away. All that really counts is the revelation of what happened to create the situation at Edbrook. The journey to this discovery is entertaining enough, especially if you want to look at Kate Beckinsale's body double, but there are few genuine scares and quite a bit of padding.
Almost fatally for a ghost story, though, is that attempts to show supernatural events seem rather inept, if not laughable. It's almost as if the seasoned director, Lewis Gilbert (who also gets a script credit), didn't give much thought as to how it should be done. All in all, I'd say The Awakening is a far better film on what is essentially the same theme.