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Published on March 28th, 2009 | by simeon

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The Haunting In Connecticut

Review by Jenna Pitman

It’s 1987 and teenager Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is dying of cancer. His mother, Sarah (Virginia Madsen) has been transporting him to a clinic in Connecticut where he is undergoing trial treatment. In an attempt to lessen the stress on the family she decides to move them into a gorgeous but cheap rental property with “a bit of history.”

Immediately Matt is inundated with visions from the past and the specters of dead and undead souls. Fearing that this is actually an unwanted side-effect of his medication or a worsening of his condition he keeps most of the occurrences to himself while wasting away from lack of sleep and a streak of fear. His family slowly begins to melt under the strain of a mortgage and other bills; his father (Martin Donovan) turns back to alcohol to soothe the pain.

The family realizes that their new home was once a funeral parlor and the embalming room was contained in the basement that Matt has selected for his own bedroom. When they stumble upon books and pictures they begin to dig deeper into the past and a run in with a dying priest (Elias Koteas) shocks Matt into believing that maybe, just maybe, the images he’s seeing might be real.
A bizarre back story of séances and necromancy ends in a brutal showdown between creatures balancing on either side of the thin cusp of death.

When broken down into such simple terms, it sounds like it might actually be an interesting 92 minutes. I don’t think I can go so far as to say that, however.

More than anyone I know, I would like to see a successful horror film. Preferably a strong project that relies on supernatural scares and terrifying creatures of otherworldly origins rather than a grotesque amount of blood, mutilation and a host of horny teenagers.

Unfortunately for me, and even more unfortunately for the subgenre of supernatural horror, “The Haunting in Connecticut” is not likely to do anything to further that agenda. Like so many other mediocre flicks, Haunting immediately opens with the clichéd claim “based on a true story.” I’m not sure which reality it’s meant to be from but if some place like that actually exists, a place where priests are experts on the “dark arts” and true necromancy is an attainable goal, I would love to be filled in on that secret.

Of course, Haunting was based on In a Dark Place: the Story of a True Haunting by novelist Ray Garton, in itself an embellishment of the “true story” at the crux of this tale. Since it is common knowledge that Hollywood can not leave well enough alone it stands to reason that the movie suffers from even more “artistic liberties.” On top of all of that, ties to Ed and Lorraine Warren (the investigators behind the Amityville Horror scandal) lead me to believe that whatever kernel of truth spawned the movie has long since been covered up by sensationalist hype.

But that is more or less to be expected, so if you push the gimmick of “this really happened” aside you find yourself with a script, some acting, directing and special effects to examine.

The movie opens with a heart tugging scene of a mother watching her sick son in the backseat of her station wagon. She is praying and a crucifix is swinging from her review mirror, directly in the middle of the screen. This is a poignant moment, as most of the scenes depicting Matt’s struggle with his illness are, but in the second scene things slowly start to unravel.

The characters spend most of the movie telling the audience what is happening or what is going to happen or why it’s happening rather than just doing something. Even for something as simple as a mother’s love, Madsen’s character spends more time just saying “I love you” than actually loving. This sort of thing happens so often that by the time the end is approaching it comes as no shock that the priest is going to spend just as long, if not longer, explaining his plan rather than just acting on his plan.

There are certainly plenty of scares but when you discover that every reflective surface in the house is a method through which you will be seeing a charred soul and over the shoulder of every unsuspecting character you will be catching a glimpse of something horrible it starts to lose its punch, especially when most of these cheap scares have no pay off. There were some truly frightening scenes but when you have to sift through so much that isn’t to get there it doesn’t seem worth it.

I had no idea how much time was passing in this movie. It felt like only a few days but if that were the case, the rapid deterioration of the family’s morale would be ridiculously immature. Two weeks and you’ve already started drinking again? With nothing happening to anyone but Matt it seemed like it would have been moving enough to cause any sort of discomfort to him. Especially when he refused to talk about it with anyone no matter how extreme it got This would lonely make sense if things had only been happening for a couple of weeks. It felt like character development, or even character establishment, was considered one of the least important elements in this film. As a result, Matt is the only character the audience can feel close to and the filmmakers just expect you to care for or understand anyone else without giving any compelling reasons why we should.

Essentially, if you’ve seen another haunting movie you’ve seen this one and you’ve seen it done better. The themes in Haunting are clumsy and the filmmakers felt the need to beat us about the head so that we realized that they were there. And just in case you forgot a single one of them they make sure to flash them for you very fast and very frequently in the heated climax.

All of which brings me to the climax of the movie. After being told throughout the movie how weak and sick our hero is I just couldn’t accept it when Matt storms into the house and starts breaking down walls with an ax. Where has his sudden energy come from? Has he been possessed or was this ending tacked on to because everyone believes American audiences are too stupid to sit through a movie without an action packed ending? Whatever the reason, while visually amazing, the climax felt weak and unbelievable.

When I lay it out like that you’re a lot less interested, aren’t you?

To be fair Haunting was not all bad. The special effects were fantastic. One scene in particular with ectoplasm leaking from the mouth of a medium, threading into the air and twining around his head, was especially moving. The make up and CGI surrounding both the zombies and dead medium were visually stunning making this one of the best looking movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Watching Matt’s struggle to come to terms with his own looming mortality as he was forced to question his sanity was intriguing. Gallner did an excellent job in this role and it was much more than just the possibility he was crazy. There was raw pain in his eyes every time he is forced to consider that he really might not survive much longer.

The biggest problem with Haunting is that I don’t know who would like this film. Fans of the genre have seen everything Haunting has to offer on more than one occasion. So much was lifted straight from The Poltergeist or Amityville Horror and others and done so well before that there really isn’t that much of a point of watching it. Yet if you’re not a fan of the genre I can’t understand why you would want to spend so many minutes of your life on such a poor example of what it has to offer.

But even after all of that I was glad I had the chance to see it and it kindled a memory of what I felt as a teenager when I first began to search through the classics of horror. So if you’d planned on going to see The Haunting in Connecticut I would still go. If you hadn’t I wouldn’t bother adding it to your list.


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