Nothing Scary To See Here
Billed as “based on true events” and directed by Peter Cornwell, The Haunting in Connecticut tells the story of a family who encounters supernatural phenomena in a rented house. Prepare to be shocked out of your seat momentarily as the family hears unexplained noises and sees ghostly apparitions courtesy of the fine camera work, sound and visual effects here. Shocked, but not scared, for there’s nothing scary about The Haunting in Connecticut -- except perhaps the family’s reasoning behind remaining in the house. Could anyone be that stupid? Probably not, which might explain why I found myself yawning while waiting impatiently for the film to end.
Life is rocky for the Campbells (in real life, the Snedeker family). Their eldest son Matt (Kyle Gallner) suffers from terminal cancer, so his parents Sara and Peter (Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan, respectively) take out two mortgages to pay for his treatment. To complicate matters, tensions still exist between recovering alcoholic Peter and the rest of his family. Because the treatments Matt undergoes are so punishing and the drives home so long, Sara decides that for Matt’s sake the family should relocate to a house closer to the hospital. She finds what she considers to be the perfect, affordable house. However, unbeknownst to everyone but her, the house has a history -- it was once a funeral home.
It’s no surprise when the family starts experiencing frightening paranormal occurrences. Matt and his cousin Wendy (Amanda Crew) uncover news stories about the past sinister goings on of the previous owner, the twisted, eyelid-collecting mortician Ramsey Aickman, who along with his poor abused medium Jonah dabbled in stealing corpses and conducting séances. Matt and Wendy quickly realize the family -- and especially Matt -- are in danger from forces beyond the grave. Matt soon seeks the help of another cancer patient he meets at the clinic, Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas).
Though I rate The Haunting in Connecticut as a big letdown, there are some positive aspects of the film worth mentioning. Director Cornwall succeeds in achieving an atmospheric and unnerving tone. Combine that with certain shots of the house and the set design interiors featuring hardwood floors, creaky staircases, long dark hallways, a cob-webby attic and a dank basement hiding a secret room and you have the very definition of a creepy, haunted house.
Unfortunately, the cast doesn’t fare too well here, with the exceptions of Gallner and Koteas. The actors mostly seem to be going through the motions, but through no fault of their own. Blame lies with the script and the director’s choices. For a movie about an allegedly real-life event, there seems little sense of significance or import, and what does exist comes mainly from Koteas who infuses his performance with believability, compassion and depth.
Regarding Madsen and Donovan, their performances probably won’t add any prestige to their careers. For the most part, Madsen appears bored and vacant, but thankfully she snaps out of her inertia near the end to deliver a stronger and more specific performance in the final scenes. Donovan, on the other hand, has a throw-away part with little for him to do and little screen time to do it in.
So many horror films have a tendency to treat scary scenes like self-contained units strung together rather than as part of a whole film with continuity. Many scenes are like that in this film -- they don’t seem connected to the reality of what has come before or what follows.
Like the corpses Matt later finds piled high behind the walls of the house, The Haunting in Connecticut contains one horror cliché on top of another. In real life, the Snedeker’s survived their paranormal ordeal. While watching this movie, however, I’m surprised I didn’t perish from boredom and disappointment.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “PG-13” for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images.)
Review also posted at www.moviebuffs.com.