Director: Peter Cornwell
Writer: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
Producer: Paul Brooks, Andrew Trapani, Daniel Farrands, Wendy Rhoads
Stars: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, Amanda Crew, Elias Koteas
When the Campbell family moves into a house that once served as a funeral parlor, its dark history of necromancy plagues their cancer-stricken son in the form of a sinister haunting.
Reviews that take the longest to write are the ones for mediocre movies. Think about any average film and a time when a friend may have asked what you thought about it. I am talking about the kind of movie where your opinion was, “it wasn’t that bad” or, “I guess it was okay.” Now imagine having to come up with 650-1000 more words on the subject.
That is the challenge in front of me with “The Haunting in Connecticut.” Neither particularly bad, nor particularly good, “Haunting” is merely unremarkable. Since I am not above terribly pedestrian metaphors, “Haunting” is to horror films what Chinese food is to cuisine. It does the job fast and simple, although you can find the same thing just about anywhere and you will crave something more satisfying not long afterwards.
The ghost story told here is adequately serviceable, if not all too familiar. A family facing a financial crunch moves into a home that hides a troubled history. The hauntings drive one member of the family to madness while the others enlist the aid of a clergyman to help them confront the malevolent forces that now consume their lives. That plot used here is the same one that worked in 1978 and in 2005 for both versions of the “The Amityville Horror.” Except George Lutz has been supplanted with Matthew Campbell (Kyle Gallner), a boy whose struggle against cancer brings him to death’s door, where he is susceptible to the spirits that drift between the realms of the living and the dead.
Tending to Matthew are his long-suffering and financially burdened parents, Sara and Peter (Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan). Mother and father are more than casual set dressing. As with the other family members portrayed, Peter and Sara earn sympathy through authentic character development. Their marriage appears committed, albeit strained from the mounting bills of maintaining two residences and caring for an ill child. Despite their hardships, they have also taken it upon themselves to care for two nieces. Mix those ingredients in the blender of a haunted house and it is little wonder that they soon buckle under pressure.
Peter struggles with alcoholism. If this is not clear when Sara makes a casual mention of his past as a drunk, it should be crystal by the way a neon Rolling Rock sign reflects in his windshield while ogling two bright smiling people toasting a pair of frosty cold ones in a bar window. For better or for worse, “Haunting” is anything but subtle when it comes to making sure everyone can follow along.
The family members all have a moment to win over the audience with their likability. Wendy earns her keep by happily looking after the young ones while the parents work. Little Mary is too cute with the way she cheerfully wrestles her cousin and plays make-believe with her dolls. “Haunting” finely establishes a three-dimensional cast, although it misses opportunities to play off that sympathy when only one of them is in any real danger most of the time.
Because Matthew’s condition makes him the only one prone to creepy visions, he is also the only person in tune with the spirits haunting the house. For much of the movie, there is never a sense that anyone is in any danger from the spirits except for Matthew, although the family may be in some danger from him. “Haunting” seems to figure this out about two-thirds in, when the rest of the family is finally let in on Matthew’s nightmare and the terror starts gripping everyone. Once the home’s past as a den of necromancy comes front and center, the hauntings literally start coming out of the woodwork.
From the references alone, writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe are at least familiar with how others have successfully created suspense from horror. The story takes place in the non-extant town of Goatswood, which can be nothing other than a reference to the same-named Cthulhu Mythos contribution of author Ramsey Campbell. The sinister mortician who unleashed the evil forces in the first place is named Ramsey Aickman. Probably a nod both to Campbell and to weird fiction writer Robert Aickman. And among the strange writings carved into the flesh of a dead body are the words “suspiria” and “tenebrum.” The latter is close enough to “Tenebrae” that I have to infer an intentional Dario Argento reference.
The bulk of the script has the requisite nuts-and-bolts to constitute a straightforward possession story. Strange things happen. Initial assumptions are nothing out of the ordinary. The true history is uncovered. Things go from bad to worse. An expert is consulted. As glib as it sounds, if you’ve seen one…
With “The Haunting in Connecticut,” the “possession” sub-genre of horror takes neither a step back, nor a step forward. It follows the rules and sticks to the accepted formula. Sharp audio stings accent the jumps. Unknown horrors lurk under the bed. Everyone involved does everything expected to combat the evil (except move out of the house). And any details not provided by a character are filled in with a montage of newspaper clippings. “Haunting” plays it safe and thus becomes all it ever could: a risk-free thriller that is just about average.
Review Score: 50