After several grueling eight-hour trips to a cancer specialist in Connecticut, the Campbell family decides to move closer to the doctor to get help for their ill son Matt (Kyle Gallner). Mom Sara (Virginia Madsen) gets their new house for a steal because, well, it "has a history." You see, the place used to be a funeral home, and while that would freak out many of us, the Campbells not only choose to stay, but they let Matt settle in down in the basement of all places. Has no one seen The Amityville Horror?
From the very first day, Matt begins to see things -- not only in the basement, but all over the old house. Objects move, floors bleed and dark figures hover around every corner. His parents think his hallucinations might the result of the cancer spreading to his brain, but the refutation of that theory is little comfort when Matt turns increasingly dark and violent towards his family. It seems as if Matt is becoming possessed by someone -- or something -- in the house, a force that slowly reveals to him the deadly secret long buried within its walls.
The End Product
If you've seen the Discovery Channel's unnerving A Haunting in Connecticut, you know that there's a trove of creepy material in this supposedly true story. However, while there are a few jumps here and there, this adaptation is sterile, by-the-numbers haunted house affair.
The film is technically proficient, with solid special effects, the glossy look of a major production and a strong cast that includes Academy Award nominee Madsen and veteran character actors Martin Donovan and Elias Koteas. Director Peter Cornwell succeeds in creating a sense of dread padded by a couple of genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments that cleverly play with reflections and perspective. However, the gimmick wears thin as it becomes apparent that the more subtle, atmospheric scares of superior haunted house movies like The Amityville Horror, The Changeling and The Others have been neglected in favor of the obvious "boo" scares that beat you over the head to make you scream.
Cornwell goes to the "boo" well way too often, with scene after scene serving little purpose other than find a way to have a shadowy figure pop into frame and then disappear. The repetitive nature of the scenes is an indictment on the script, which feels wafer-thin even with several embellishments that attempt to provide a back story for the spirits that the original Discovery documentary never really explored.
In hindsight, that was probably for the best, because the script -- from two writers who last teamed up to pen the Snoop Dogg vehicle Bones (let that be an indication of the depth involved here) -- is shallow and cliched with an unnecessarily convoluted plot twist that makes it all feel like a desperate attempt to force a Hollywood formula onto a relatively basic, real-life tale.
- Acting: B- (A solid cast helps sell the increasingly frustrating material.)
- Direction: C+ (Relies too much on cheap "boo" scares.)
- Script: D (Unoriginal, unfocused and unbelievable.)
- Gore/Effects: B- (Good makeup effects make for intimidating spirits.)
- Overall: C (Been-there-done-that haunted house film.)
The Haunting in Connecticut is directed by Peter Cornwell and is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images. Release date: March 27, 2009.