March 26, 2009

Haunting in Connecticut, The

starhalf

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Haunting in Connecticut, The

HORROR:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-03-27

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Mature Themes, Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew, Martin Donovan, Sophi Knight, Ty Wood

Director:

Peter Cornwell

Screenplay:

Adam Simon & Tim Metcalfe

Cinematography:

Adam Swica

Music:

Robert J. Kral

U.S. Distributor:

Lionsgate

Subtitles:

none


Sometimes I wonder why I bother with PG-13 horror films. They're a dime a dozen and most of them aren't worth the celluloid the projector's light passes through. For every pleasant surprise like The Uninvited, there are about ten lifeless regurgitations like The Haunting in Connecticut. Boring and uninspired, this movie gives ghost stories a bad name. Director Peter Cornwell's film is so bankrupt when it comes to generating atmosphere and scares that an inordinate number of "boo!" moments are needed to keep viewers interested. So almost every scene features a glimpse of a ghostly figure reflected in a mirror, passing outside of a window, or lurking in a shadow. After a while, it's almost comical, and could be used as the basis of a "spot the ghoul" drinking game.

The Haunting in Connecticut relies on the "based on a true story" crutch, which is a good indication that the movie is in trouble. If the narrative is so feeble that it needs this hook to reel viewers in, there's a problem. Those who go to the trouble of fact-checking The Haunting in Connecticut will find that the story which forms the basis of the screenplay is founded on the dubious claims of Al and Carmen Snedeker, who lived in a former funeral parlor in Connecticut during the late 1980s. The Snedeckers' ordeal was novelized by Ray Garton, who is on record as doubting the veracity of the tale told by his subjects. It all goes to show how loose the phrase "based on a true story" can be. Remember Hidalgo?

At any rate, whether 0%, 50%, or 100% of The Haunting in Connecticut is factually accurate, it doesn't make a difference when it comes to assessing the film's capacity for entertainment, and this is a chore to sit through. Viewers get two bad movies for the price of one. In addition to the trite and formulaic ghost story, there's also a sudsy melodrama featuring a boy dying from cancer and the impact that's having on his family. Dad, a recovering alcoholic, is drinking again. Mom is pushed to the breaking point trying to hold her family together. And the rest of the family is seeing dead people. Of course, what would a ghost story be without a helpful Man of the Cloth hanging around? He can't perform an exorcism because he's not Catholic, but he accomplishes the next best thing.

The PG-13 rating assures that nothing overtly gruesome or shocking is shown. Everything is sanitized so younger viewers can gaze upon it without going blind. The depressing thing about the PG-13 is that as soon as Amanda Crew gets in the shower, we know there's no chance for substantive nudity. Sure enough, the director finds a way to film her being attacked by the shower curtain in such a way that she shows less than she might while catching a few rays at the beach. Not that a naked Amanda Crew would have salvaged the movie, but every little bit helps…

The story focuses on the Campbell family, the members of which have rented a house in Connecticut so they can be near the hospital where their oldest son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), is undergoing experimental cancer treatments. Matt's parents, Sara (Virginia Madsen) and Peter (Martin Donovan), don't have the happiest of marriages. In addition to Peter's alcoholism, he's only with the family on weekends since his job keeps him hours away. Also living in the house are Matt's younger brother and his two cousins. Almost as soon as they move in, Matt begins to see things that go bump in the night. He thinks he might be hallucinating as a result of the cancer treatments but the visions are too vivid. So he gets in touch with Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas), a Man of God who's also dying of cancer, and the two of them investigate the strange goings-on of bygone years that involved séances, ectoplasm, and 100 missing bodies. And, since Matt and Popescu are on death's doorstep, they have little difficulty seeing the spirits of those who have preceded them in crossing over.

The mystery of what happened in the past is uninvolving. The filmmakers mistakenly believe that we have a stake in understanding why the house is haunted. The only disturbing aspect of the flashback sequences is how laughable the special effects for the ectoplasm are. Not that the 1987 scenes are appreciably better, filled as they are with wooden and/or over-the-top acting and unintentionally hilarious dialogue. The Campbells also deserve some sort of Stupid Horror Movie Character Award, Family Category. The ghosts come out to play, scare the hell out of everyone, and how do the protagonists react? Do they leave? Do they pack up their bags and head for the nearest Motel Six? No - they go back to their separate beds and try to sleep. When people are stupid enough to stay in a situation like that, they deserve what they get.

It's hard to imagine ghost story fans being impressed by this, much less anyone who's not a card-carrying horror movie lover. It's poorly made and badly written. Yes, it offers the requisite jumps and scares, so if the purpose of attending is to get a girlfriend to clutch your arm, it will probably work. (Although, with so many "Boo!" moments, the clutching could happen so frequently that bruising is a possibility.) But if you're interested in terror or intelligence, you won't find it in this "true" story. As the saying goes: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story… or a bad one, apparently.

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