Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This House Is Haunted!

Based on a chilling true story, The Haunting In Connecticut charts one family's terrifying, real-life encounter with the dark forces of the supernatural. When the Campbell family moves to upstate Connecticut, they soon learn that their charming Victorian home has a disturbing history: not only was the house a transformed funeral parlor where inconceivable acts occurred, but the owner's clairvoyant son Jonah served as a demonic messenger, providing a gateway for spiritual entities to crossover. Now unspeakable terror awaits, when Jonah, the boy who communicated with the powerful dark forces of the supernatural, returns to unleash a new kind of horror on the innocent and unsuspecting family.

Although the film never directly credits it, the real story of the Snedeker family—as chronicled in the book In A Dark Place by Ray Garton—serves as the basis for this tale about the Campbell’s, a family forced to take up residence in an old funeral parlor in order to stay closer to their son’s doctors. Teenager Matt (Kyle Gallner) is stricken with cancer and is undergoing a radical radiation therapy in an attempt to prolong his life. His mother Sara (Virginia Madsen) chooses the home despite some initial apprehension and his reformed alcoholic father’s (Martin Donovan) protests. Almost immediately strange occurrences begin around the house and bumps and thumps and shadowy figures lurk about in the dead of night. It doesn’t take Matt long to uncover the horrifying acts that have occurred behind the walls of this home. The question is, will he have the strength or the time to save his family from this unspeakable evil. Even as Cornwell’s film borrows—sometimes heavy-handedly—from many of the previously noted master cinematic ghost stories, the film still feels immediate and satisfying. Menacing, even with its PG-13 rating, Cornwell could have taken easy roads out—and the film does suffer some from an overloud score punctuating the jump scares it dishes out with a bit too much abandon. Still, instead the filmmaker crafts an interesting story with just the right amount of ookie and spooky. The house feels threatening in and of itself, and even if mortician tools laying to waste in a damp dark basement for the past 70 years look a little too shiny and new to be originals, the effect of the location and mood is still chilling. The film has a few problems including a fairly broad cast, including Matt’s female cousin Wendy (Amanda Crew) and two additional siblings that really lend no absolute necessity to the story. One kid could have sufficed to serve the storytelling needs and with two more characters running around, it just feels like the whole family is a tad underdeveloped. The film relies too much on those jump scares I mentioned earlier and the score is fine in its quieter moments but, its bombastic senses in the films key action sequences are almost mind meltingly brash. The final element of the story that leaves me a bit cold is the character of Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas) who is nearly as expendable as Martin Donovan’s portrayal of the father. Both men suffer the same fate, they exist only to espouse plot device. In the case of the father the character adds fuel to the conflict fire. It’s unnecessary, but forgivable to an extent. Koteas’ character—a Revered who is also dying of cancer—is the worst cinematic offender. He exists only to provide a background story that could have been easily explained away in less obvious fashion. Popescu is a cheap crutch to help the audience and the characters connect the dots. It’s lazy storytelling in many ways and could have been another nail in the coffin of this film. You wouldn’t need a team of paranormal investigators to point out all of the obvious references that director Peter Cornwell and writers Tim Metcalf and Adam Simon trot out in their feature film. Collective moments and vibes lifted from films such as In the Mouth of Madness, Psycho, Poltergeist, Stir of Echoes and quite a few others are widely displayed. Still, despite the laundry list of influences featured in this “true” story, The Haunting in Connecticut might just turn out to be one of the better ghost stories of the year. Still, despite the many pitfalls that the filmmakers stepped in, The Haunting in Connecticut still comes off as a totally serviceable horror film. One that is deeply mired in traditions and struggling to find a distinct voice, but nonetheless an enjoyable way to kill a Friday night. This gets a chilling 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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