The Haunting in Connecticut

To say that The Haunting in Connecticut borrows liberally from the textbook for Haunted House Movie 101 is giving it undue credit. It cribs unabashedly from a host of movies before it.

The haunting in Connecticut

Director: Peter Cornwell
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: DVD Unrated, Previously released as PG-13
US DVD Release Date: July 14, 2009
Length: 102 minutes
Year: 2009

I won’t subject readers to a plot summary of The Haunting in Connecticut -- the story is well worn, and there’s nothing here you haven’t seen in a dozen haunted house films before. Suffice it to say that a struggling middle class family gets a too good to be true deal when they rent a renovated funeral home and séance parlor. But when they move into the house with their son who is either a little psychic or just dying, things promptly start to get spoooooooky.

Now, before I rip into The Haunting in Connecticut for being just another haunted house movie, let me say this: there’s nothing wrong with genre filmmaking. I like genre filmmaking. I like haunted house movies, for crying out loud, and I go into films like The Haunting in Connecticut prepared to like them, asking for little more than a couple popcorn shaking jumps, a shot or two I haven’t seen before, and a cast that borders on the watchable.

The Haunting in Connecticut has none of these things, and it’s not because it’s a genre film. It’s because it is a lazy, lazy film that seems to work hard not to bring any new ideas about what a haunted house movie should bring to the table.

To say that The Haunting in Connecticut borrows liberally from the textbook for Haunted House Movie 101 is giving it undue credit. It cribs unabashedly from a host of movies before it. It’s as if the entire film was plotted by some brain dead committee that had seen a few horror movies between them, and was asked to shout out what was scary about them.

Old mirrors are spooky. Flickering lights are spooky. Creaking floorboards are spooky. Basements are spooky. Decaying corpses are spooky. Ghosts appear in mirrors and over shoulders, flitting in and out of the camera’s lens. Doors slam shut of their own accord. Rotten boards in the attic break conveniently to reveal documents detailing all of the dark secrets of the house, in one handy dandy container. Also, there is a box of human eyelids.

Please don’t ask about the box of human eyelids. They’re either necromantic souvenirs or some kind of charm against the evil spirits that inhabit the house because a ghost can’t hurt you if you’re… holding its eyelid? I don’t know.

At the film’s climax, as lights flicker on and off, a ghost disappears in the darkness only to reappear each time the lights are off, each time getting closer…and closer…and closer to the unsuspecting family. Oh my gosh, are you totally scared yet? Can you feel the tension in the air? Are you…experiencing an intense sensation of cinematic déjà vu?

Sadly, the tired clichés aren’t confined to the plot or style of The Haunting in Connecticut, which trots out a host of worn out characters There’s the hard pressed mother trying to keep her family together and her counterpart, the recovering drunk of a husband, striving to get his life together and do right by his family. There’s the precocious younger brother. And of course, the wiser-than-his-age teen resigned to his death and who would be lost if not for his chance meeting (lucky!) with the mysterious reverend who has an understanding of demonology, local history, and the necromantic arts that is, quite frankly, way above his pay grade.

The fact that The Haunting in Connecticut bills itself ominously as being ‘Based on True Events’ makes you wonder if the real family was this annoying. And then you watch the special features, which include interviews with some family members, and realize that they are! They totally are! And yeah, part of me feels bad about making fun of these folks, some of whom obviously feel like they had a traumatic experience when they were kids, even if they can’t exactly remember what that experience was.

But then I remember that someone wrote these people a check that made a sound like a brick hitting the table for the rights to fictionalize their story, then I feel okay about it. Knowing that things like the cutting off of eyelids, the carving of bodies and the burning down of the house, are all added for the sake of a more exciting film cuts my sympathy further. I understand that it sometimes seems necessary to spruce up a story with some makeup and some CGI for the popcorn munching Saturday matinee set. But this sort of whole cloth invention is a little hard to take, especially when the screenwriter is trumpeting how well the film sticks to actual events.

A few heavy-handed and obviously scripted moments aside, (‘Oh my God, guys, that off camera sound was a crucifix falling right off the wall! Seriously, you couldn’t see it, but it happened. Spooky, huh guys?’) the interviews with family members, neighbors and friends make a compelling if accidental argument that the real story of 'The Haunting in Connecticut' has more to do with frayed family psychology than any supernatural light show.

It’s a story about a house full of kids dealing with familial strife and terminal illness in an unfamiliar environment that’s conducive to the stories children tell about things that go bump in the night. It’s about children under tremendous stress who convinced themselves there were ghosts in the house, only to be taken too seriously by parental figures and psychic researchers looking to make the rounds of the talk show circuit. And the real shame of The Haunting in Connecticutis that that story, with its uncertainties, its natural tension and its genuine drama could have made one hell of a smart, challenging and unconventional haunted house movie.


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