The Haunting In Connecticut
The House Isn't Livable But The Dead Are Very Much Alive In This Connecticut Town
By Omar P.L. Moore/    SHARE
Friday, March 27, 2009

Virginia Madsen as Sara and Kyle Gallner as Matt in "The Haunting In Connecticut", which opened at midnight this morning in
theaters across the U.S. and Canada.  The film, directed by Peter Cornwell, is based on a true story.  (Photo: Rebecca Sandulak/Lionsgate)

You wonder what it is about Connecticut that has deserved the recent movie reputation it has received.  In a span of three years "Reservation Road" (2007), "Revolutionary Road" (2008) and the intense but excellent "Must Read After My Death" (2009), all of which were set or shot in Connecticut, have brought nothing but dread and anguish to moviegoers everywhere.  None of these films have been the successes that they hoped to be, and although "The Haunting In Connecticut" will exceed the box office totals of these titles, it's a film both weak in story and concept.  While the last fifteen minutes of Peter Cornwell's film (which opened at midnight this morning at select screenings across the U.S. and Canada) aren't the worst, the film is a disappointing interpretation of a true story.

True story: In 1987 the Snedeker family moved into a house in Southington, Connecticut.  Soon thereafter the family was tormented by the ghost of a boy who channeled himself through one of the family's members.  It turns out that the house was formerly a funeral parlor from at least the 1920s onward.  In these current tough economic times you couldn't expect this house to be taken off the market for even a song but in 1987, a few months before that October's Wall Street stock market collapse the Snedekers moved in, enduring at least two years of haunts and visitations from spirits before finally leaving. 

New story: In "Haunting", Sara (Virginia Madsen) and Peter (Martin Donovan) move to Connecticut, bringing teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner).  Matt is there for medical center experiments being done on his cancer which is rapidly spreading -- trials hopefully resulting in arresting the progression of his terminal illness.  In the creepy asymmetrical house the family inhabits Matt picks his room -- a basement that anyone, whether ill or otherwise would steer well clear of -- and Sara says, "here?".  "Why?" is exactly what you want to say to Mr. Cornwell's film, which echoes familiar horror movie cliches.  The Connecticut house is super-ominous, with dark corridors, shadows and jagged, oddly sharp angles.  ("Amityville Horror", anyone?)  There are high-angle shots evoking Alfred Hitchcock.  Just in case the sleepy-eyed among you don't realize this, Mr. Cornwell throws in an homage to Mr. Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) for good measure.  By the way, Matt begins to see figures, grotesque visions and disturbing images.  He insists these are real, that he's not imaging them.  The rest of the family, which includes Matt's sister Wendy (Amanda Crew), niece and nephew (Sophi Knight and Ty Wood), isn't so sure.

This occasionally atmospheric film, mostly ridiculous when it should have been far better than that -- is not the director's fault alone.  He (and we) should say that it is the script by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe which really sinks his film, whose half-dozen jolts are barely risible as to wake one from deep sleep.  The script insults the characters.  For instance, Sara, knowing that her son Matt is ill, has a strange habit of squeezing him, hugging him too hard and bringing Matt more pain.  Is that the way to treat your terminally ill son?  "I'm sorry," Sara keeps saying.  Later on, Nicholas Popescu (Elias Koteas), a reverend claiming to be able to drive the spirits out of the wretched house, asks Sara, "do you not sense it's strange here?"  If the reverend is asking you a rhetorical question and you fail to comprehend it, that's a sign you may need a mental tune up.  Or your brakes tested.  Or your sense of reality challenged.  One trivial observation: two of the film's most important characters look like contemporary film actors.  Jonah (Erik J. Berg), the young boy haunting the bejeesus out of poor Matt, looks the spitting image of a pre-teen Tom Cruise.  And Mr. Koteas resembles Robert De Niro more than he ever has, in mannerisms as well as looks.

Ultimately, Mr. Cornwell makes the mistake of trying to make a conventional horror film instead of trusting himself enough to make a film of a true story.  "The Haunting In Connecticut" lacks the imagination that other films in this much-trodden genre have emulated and excelled in -- the aforementioned "Psycho", "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "The Exorcist" (1973) and more recent films like "Jacob's Ladder" (1990).  Or you can go back to 1933 and the great film "The Most Dangerous Game" to get a sense of relentless horror and terror, yet with all the subtlety that feathers in a down pillow would surely bring.  Comfort, confidence and peace.  With that said, the cinematography and editing of Mr. Cornwell's film are its strong point, even if logic isn't.

"The Haunting In Connecticut" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images.  The film's duration is one hour and 32 minutes -- though it feels much longer.  Some of the images are grisly and may really disturb some younger viewers as well as some adults.


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