Review: “A Haunting in Connecticut”

April 3, 2009 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

After being excited to watch, and ultimately letdown by, The Unborn, I was wary of this one.  Sure, the trailers looked nice and freaky, and some years ago I saw an episode of The Discovery Channel’s ‘A Haunting’ series that featured this case, but what if, just like The Unborn, this turned out to be a ‘creature feature’ with cheap scares and a ridiculously bad story, topped off with hammy acting?  Plus, the critical reviews for The Haunting in Connecticut have been less than favorable.  Needless to say, I went in with some low expectations.

And I walked out very surprised, and a little bit spooked.

Let me get it out of the way now and say that I’m a little biased towards ‘based on a true story’ horror flicks, especially ones that deal with possession or haunted houses.  I’m a Roman Catholic and I have to admit that Catholicism definitely has its history of superstitions and a strong belief in this ‘other world’ filled with ghosts, some of which would like nothing but to do us (the living) harm.  So, I already have this built-in fear, or at least a nervous suspicion of, anything demonic and the like.  Basically, The Exorcist is, to me, the scariest film every made and to this day it still cares that pants off of me.  Movies like that will definitely keep me up the night I watch them.

The Haunting in Connecticut is the story of the Campbell family, who moved into a funeral-home-turned-house, then have to deal with the strange and eerie goings-on within its walls.  The family is plagued by financial and personal troubles: the eldest son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), has a form of cancer which has worsened, leaving him extremely weak.  Almost every day, mother Sarah (Virginia Madsen), makes an 8-hour roundtrip commute to bring her son to the hospital for treatment.  The medicine, plus the fact that the father Peter (Martin Donovan) is the sole breadwinner, is taking a heavy toll on their finances.  Add to that a bit of alcoholism in Peter’s history, and you’ve got one troubled family.

Sarah and Peter finally make the decision to move to a house closer to the hospital.  So they pack their things, bring along their other children Mary and Billy (Sophi Knight and Ty Wood), and their niece Wendy, and plant themselves in Connecticut.  Almost on arrival they notice something off about the house.  At first it’s the usual noises and night, then Matt begins having hallucinations involving a horribly disfigured young man and others around the house.  At first, the visions are attributed to the treatment he’s receiving, but soon everyone in the house is having them.

Enter Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas), a fellow cancer patient who happens to believe that the dying are the bridge between the perfectly healthy and the tormented dead.  After some investigation by Wendy, the discover the house wasn’t just a funeral home, it was also used to for seances and other paranormal acts, some of which weren’t entirely. . . safe.  I’ll skip over other details of the plot, only because I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll just say that this movie has a little more meat, plot-wise, than recent fair like The Unborn.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror movie without some freak-out moments, right?  There are plenty hear, and yes, there are quite a few that weren’t in the trailer.  One thing I hate about jump-at-you scares is that they’re cheap and only scare me for the moment they happen.  What really gets me is the anticipation of such scares.  And what really freaks me out is when you anticipate it and nothing happens.  You get a little of both here.  There’s the usual stare-into-a-dark-corner-and-something-jumps-at-you stuff, but then there’s also moments where you think you see something, but it’s too dark to tell, and all you feel is the presence of something there, even if it isn’t doing anything to the characters.

I also appreciate how ‘conservative’ the movie is with some of the effects.  Yes, you’ll see ghosts and disfigured people, but not right away.  At first it’s just heavy footsteps and shadowy figures, then flickering lights, banging doors, and eerie faces staring at you in the dark.  Director Peter Cornwell slowly ramps up the visual scares as the movie goes along, so at the end there’s a whole lot of stuff happening, but it doesn’t feel like too much, as they’ve been building up to a fast-paced conclusion all along.

The actors do a commendable job, especially Virginia Madsen (who sounded genuinely enthused for this movie when I listened to her at WonderCon a few months ago) and Kyle Gallner.  Madsen really made me feel for the family, as she has to be the emotional rock for everyone.  She is doing everything she possibly can for her family, despite demonic attacks, financial woes, and personal demons plaguing them all.  Gallner also does a great job of playing the victim/hero; he is at the mercy of his cancer, which leaves him sick and weak, but at the same time he never gives in to it.  Elias Koteas also gives a similar performance, as his Revered Popescu is dealing with the same things as Matt, although for much longer and has learned to accept his mortality.

What I didn’t fully buy was Martin Donovan’s character.  At one point Peter’s abusive alcoholism comes into play and it just felt like too much, too soon.  Maybe there were some scenes cut, but I felt that we didnt’ spend enough time with this character and the personal crisis he faces.  He has to manage a full-time job at his own company, bring home enough money for a 2nd mortgage and a rent, plus be there for his family whenever he can.  That’s a lot on his plate, and the story just breezes past some of it.  And the little kids, although they were there in the ‘true story’, they weren’t necessary for this story and their acting is about as good as one can expect from child actors.

The Haunting in Connecticut was a genuine surprise for me.  It kept me on the edge with the scares, and emotionally involved because of the characters.  There are plenty of people who find this whole movie messy and just plain bad, but I had a good time with it.  If you enjoyed The Exorcism of Emily Rose or The Exorcist, this would probably be up your alley.  Again, I’m biased because I fully believe that stuff like this is possible (I’m not saying that this really did happen 100% like the movie tells it, I’m just saying that I keep an open mind), but this movie managed to keep me nervous for the nearly 2 hours I was in the theatre.  If a horror movie can do that, then I’d consider that a well-made horror flick.


(images from Yahoo!)


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