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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Haunting in Connecticut

Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images
Runtime: 1 min 32 secs
Genre: Horror/Suspense
Theatrical Release:Mar 27, 2009 Wide
Box Office: $46,488,580
Review :

For those of us growing up in the '70s, there was one seminal, supposedly true, scary story.No, it wasn't Helter Skelter or the trumped-up Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No, in high school cafeterias everywhere, we teens were talking about George and Kathy Lutz and their 1977 journey into red-eyed demonic pig terror, The Amityville Horror. The novel was a post-modern masterwork, a complete con passing itself off as irrefutable "fictional" reality.

Now comes The Haunting in Connecticut, a similarly-styled exercise culled from a novel, plus an episode of the always trustworthy TV show from the Discovery Channel. Oddly enough, it's another network -- Lifetime -- that sets the tone for this tepid terror tale.
Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer, life has been a struggle for Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner). While his recovering alcoholic Dad (Martin Donovan) tries to maintain house and home, well-meaning Mom (Virginia Madsen) drives several hours to Connecticut to try an experimental technique which offers some hope. The toll on the teen is too great, however, so Mom eventually moves the family to an old dilapidated house so he can be closer to his doctors. Almost immediately, weird things start happening. The building creaks and odd ethereal noises are heard. Soon, Matt is seeing spirits and discovering the facilities for a funeral home in the basement. As dark forces torment him and the rest of the Campbell clan, Reverend Nicholas Popescu (Elias Koteas) tries to save them from the evil forces festering in this psychically charged dwelling with a terrifying, telling history.

Let's get one thing straight right up front -- when you move into a former funeral parlor, complete with intact embalming room, crematorium, and séance-drenched legacy, you should expect a little paranormal activity, right? If you didn't get a heaping helping of problematic poltergeists and demon disturbances, you'd ask for your escrow money back. Apparently, the notion of living where the dead used to be preserved (and in this case, desecrated in confusing, ambiguous psychic rituals) holds no sway over the Campbell family. They're too busy sniping at each other and worrying about young Matt's rampaging illness to let stories of a young boy, his wicked mortician boss, and the evil acts they committed get in the way.
Australian novice Peter Cornwell can crow all he wants about this tale's veracity, but there's more legitimacy in your average urban legend than in the entire 100 minutes of this flimsy excuse for false shocks. Granted, we do feel the unsettling atmosphere of this converted death palace, and there are times when a sense of dread starts sneaking up on us. But then the first time feature filmmaker ruins it all by telegraphing his scares with the standard combination of menacing music cues, obvious framing, and drawn-out dramatic pauses. If something didn't go "boo" after all that, the audience would feel completely ripped off. Too bad Cornwell overcompensates while ignoring everything else that could possibly be horrific about this situation.
Indeed, the real shame about The Haunting in Connecticut is that a decent premise is totally wasted via a dimwitted, dialed down PG-13 execution. It's the same with Amityville and other "true" haunted house films as well. You have to balance seriousness and skepticism, giving the viewer a chance to put themselves in the place of the characters and indentify with the fright. By constantly stopping the shivers to delve into Matt's disease, the father's potential relapse, and the mother's obsession over both, we experience the equivalent of being dragged out in the cold, clarifying rays of the sun. The accuracy of this tale will always be suspect. The facts of its subpar cinematic translation are beyond reproach.

A direct descendent of classic haunted-house films like BURNT OFFERINGS (1975) and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT also features the classic premise of a family moving... A direct descendent of classic haunted-house films like BURNT OFFERINGS (1975) and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT also features the classic premise of a family moving into a new home where the bad deeds of previous tenants have left a foul psychic residue. Reportedly based on true events experienced by the Snedeker family in the 1970s, Peter Cornwell’s film has plenty of effective scares, but it is also a moving family drama featuring an impressive performance by Virginia Madsen (SIDEWAYS). It is 1987, and Connecticut teenager Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing painful, experimental cancer treatments. Long drives to the hospital are making a trying experience even worse, so his mother, Sara (Madsen), rents an old house and moves the family closer to Matt’s clinic. Soon after moving into the house, Matt begins to have disturbing hallucinations of strange figures; but believing these visions to be unfortunate side effects of his cancer therapy, he keeps them to himself. When the visions persist, a bit of sleuthing reveals the Campbells’ new abode to be an old funeral home where séances were held in the 1920s by a mortician who also had dealings in the black arts that have left some restless spirits wandering the house. The first half of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, where it isn’t clear if Matt’s visions are real or imagined, is driven more by the touching story of a mother and son caught in a painful situation than by shocks and scares. Once it’s confirmed that the ghosts are real, however, the film becomes a tight little thriller with some genuinely creepy moments. Martin Donovan, as the alcoholic father of the Campbell family, and Elias Koteas, as a sympathetic priest, do great work in supporting roles.

Starring: Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew
Director: Peter Cornwell

Screenwriter: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe

Producer: Paul Brooks, Andy Trapani, Daniel Farrands, Wendy Rhoads

Composer: Robert J. Kral

Studio: Lions Gate Films



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