The Haunting in Connecticut
Based on "the" true story (so much more definitive than “a” true story, don’t you think?), The Haunting In Connecticut is cursed from the very start by associating scares with the US equivalent of Surrey. (Ironically the movie was shot hundreds of miles away in Manitoba.)
If you somehow missed the 2002 Discovery Channel documentary about the case, you’ll need to know that this is the story a teenager stricken with cancer, enrolled in an experimental drug program, who suffers from creepy hallucinations.
There’s a bit more to it though. In order to be close to the hospital, the family moves into a surprisingly cheap suburban rental home. Mom (Virginia Madsen) isn’t pleased when the landlord tells her about the history of the place, but she keeps it to herself. Her son Matt (Kyle Gallner) doesn’t know that his basement bedroom was once the mortuary-room in a funeral parlour… that the mortician was a body snatcher who mentored his young assistant in speaking to the dead. Matt doesn’t know about any of this, but he sees it playing out before his heavily-medicated eyes.
These “facts”, if that’s what they are, only flirt with the supernatural. Director Peter Cornwell (Killer: A Journal of Murder) has it both ways, showing mysterious figures creeping round the house at night, but leaving just enough wiggle room to support the more rational interpretation, that Matt was particularly suggestible in his weak and drugged out state.
22-year-old Gellner gives a strong performance as Matt, and the movie charts his physical and mental disintegration with some skill. His loving relationship with his mom is also convincingly played (his dad – played by Martin Donovan– is an alcoholic and often absent from the home.
This promising psychological approach owes something to J-horror movies like Ringu and Dark Water, but Cornwell is impatient to get his audience jumping, and soon runs through his routine arsenal of shock effects. Which doesn’t stop him from running through them again. And again. Matt plays an innocent game of hide and seek with his little nephew and niece so often you begin to wonder if they shouldn’t invest in Trivial Pursuit.
Sepia flashbacks to the unseemly century old events in the basement are also ineffectual, if authentically tasteless. Even so, it’s hard to believe the family would stay put once they’ve discovered the ghoulish secret room downstairs. Even after the house starts throwing Amityville-like fits they don’t think to move to a motel – and this is a rental, remember?
Elias Koteas brings a nice soft, gentle quality to the tired role of the exorcist-priest, but his lines are so poor it’s a wonder he kept a straight face.
When all is done and dusted The Haunting in Connecticut has abandoned any meaningful pretence at investigating a real para-normal incident and ditched psychology for hokum and spectacle. The truth is, though, a more restrained treatment could have made for a scarier movie.
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