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Haunting in Connecticut too much like hauntings everywhere else

by Glen Baity

Here’s the thing about haunted house movies: In each and every one, there’s always a point at which the viewer feels like screaming, “Oh come on! Just move out already!” The Haunting in Connecticut (distinguishable from The Haunting because it happens…. in Connecticut!) has at least a dozen of these moments, the majority of them taking place less than halfway through the film. This is a problem. Also problematic is the fact that, at this point in cinema history, it’s very, very difficult to do a haunted house story that doesn’t feel clichéd. Occasionally it happens — 2007’s The Orphanage springs to mind as a rare and recent example. But after years upon years of the same basic story played out repeatedly with different actors, the result is more often an undistinguished offering like this one. The Haunting in Connecticut speaks the language — it’s stuffed to the gills with creaky floorboards, dissonant violins and cheap scares — but it doesn’t say anything interesting. The story begins as these stories always do, with a family moving into a stately old home. These are the Campbells: dad Peter, mom Sara and terminally ill son Matt (Martin Donovan, Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner) who pack up all their belongings and a handful of cousins for the move to Connecticut, where Matt is undergoing a clinical trial that may well be his last hope. Sara finds the perfect house for the large family, but of course the inexpensive rent tells its own story: The Campbells have moved into a former mortuary, and an unusual one at that. The sheer quantity of ghouls lurking in every shadow causes Matt to begin wondering: Just what went on here? As the flimsy mystery falls away, it’s revealed that the former owner’s side business holding séances had something to do with it, though in truth, when all is revealed, it’s still a bit murky. Whatever it was, it caused the home’s deceased customers to prowl the hallways, seeking revenge. This begins literally hours after the family moves in, which brings us back to that first question: Why not just leave? These people are renters! The poor saps who bought the Amityville Horror house at least had a mortgage to tie them to the place. The film is the first for director Peter Cornwell, and it doesn’t exactly herald the coming of a new visual stylist. He crams some sort of fright, real or imagined, into nearly every scene. This seems intended to distract the viewer from the script and the flat, uninteresting the camera work. For scares, he relies on the same flickering lights and choppy editing of a hundred other modern horror directors. For the turn-of-the-century flashbacks, he brings out the sepia. It’s all standard-issue, intermittently effective but ultimately hollow. The performances are good enough for what they are, but no one really stands out. Fault the material — subtract the ghost story and you’ve essentially got an uninteresting family melodrama. The film is set in the 1980s, so it’s possible Cornwell intends parts of Haunting as an homage to the crappy TV movies of that era (there’s even a tacked-on subplot about the father, a reformed drunk, falling off the wagon). That doesn’t make it any better. The Haunting in Connecticut, like so many weak horror movies, tries to get extra mileage by claiming it is “based on a true story.” And again, I call shenanigans. If you’re taken in by stuff like “Ghost Hunters” on the SciFi network, maybe you’ll get a chill imagining a funeral home where things go bump in the night. But let me help you out: The events of this film never happened, not in any meaningful way. It’s not a documentary, it’s a middling, unsatisfying horror flick, and if you’ve seen one charred, reanimated corpse creeping up behind an unsuspecting victim, you’ve seen them all.

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