Haunting in Connecticut, The (2009)

The Haunting in ConnecticutReviewed by Nomad

Starring Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew

Directed by Peter Cornwell

It’s been a common occurrence of late, to turn out the most fantastical trailer possible for a film project, regardless of any misleading ideas it might stir up. People attend what they think is a horror film and get a thriller instead. People looking for a murder mystery get a Nineties style gore fest. It happens and I can’t begrudge the marketing team for a clever bait and switch, especially in this economy. Am I leading you down a path to the realization that The Haunting in Connecticut isn’t the horror film they are claiming it is? My odd answer will be … this is absolutely a horror film, but it’s hardly the one we see in the trailer. Further, this film bears only the slightest resemblance to the actual events claimed to have happened in real life. Does this mean we get an original piece of work with unexpected moments and heavy creeps? Let’s get into it.

The Campbell family has seen better days. Young Matt Campbell (Gallner) is undergoing aggressive cancer treatment that has him puking his guts up several times a day. The treatment is being done hours away from the Campbell’s home, which means Sara Campbell (Madsen) must make the drive as often as is warranted, leaving no time to spare for a job. The sole breadwinner, Peter (Donovan), is struggling to keep it together as a father as well as a recovering alcoholic. At this point, I verify that I am indeed at the movies and not flipping through channels at home, pausing momentarily to figure out if this Lifetime original movie might be more enjoyable than Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I also lean over to a friend to make sure I wasn’t mistaken with the commercials which REALLY meant to say this film was based on a country song. Surely, in the next scene, something bad will happen to the husband’s truck. Sadly, it comes to pass.

The Haunting in ConnecticutAn hour into the film, Matt Campbell has had some experience with bad dreams and things standing in the dark, only to disappear quickly on further inspection. Not a hair has been harmed on the heads of anyone else in the home. Stringed instruments play wildly as children silently move down cavernous hallways. Whispered voices echo as the nubile teen cousin Wendy tip toes around a corner. The sounds popping up in the theater’s speakers are fantastic and I wait excitedly for the tension to build enough to seriously creep me out. Unfortunately, that moment never comes. Instead, two or three fairly decent jump scares frighten my friend and as those moments fade away, we are left with boredom. This is the kind of boredom that comes from watching a film that takes significant time to explore a fragile family dealing with a member stricken with cancer and a father fighting his own urge to drink. Will our brave teen beat the big C? Will dad man-up and toss his bottles in favor of a loving family and beautiful children? At the risk of sounding insensitive … who gives a fuck? I came here to watch a movie with disturbing entities attacking a family to the point of insanity and at some point, a boy in period clothing will puke ectoplasm into the air in slow motion. Gimme.

Beautiful visuals of barely lit corners of the house compliment superior acting from Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner and Martin Donovan and on down the line to the big eyed children. Elias Koteas arrives as a preacher (also stricken with cancer ~sigh~) to deliver some explanation to why everything happening in the house only seems to be affecting to Matt. His intensity slips right into the quiet of the film like the rolling of a calm sea. So it’s not the cinematography, or the acting, or the sound effects. Even the special makeups are fairly effective, providing some odd creatures that will send chills up your date’s spine. With all this talent and potential, the filmmakers fail to pull together a significant pace to drive an audience to terror. Apparitions stand still and reach for no one. Family members emerge, largely unmolested, save one run in with a rogue shower curtain. Since Matt is the only one to experience the insanity for the bulk of the film, it is even suggested that his cancer treatment may be causing hallucinations!! With little to no impending dread and a tight focus on a family fighting to survive human trauma, what is left to scare us?

PG-13 to the rescue. This is one instance where a teenage crowd will make all the difference. What may seem boring, and at times, laughable to us could give a teenager nightmares. As a die hard horror fan, it takes a hell of a lot more than an eerie hallmark movie to get under my skin. Honestly, I’ve seen more terrifying episodes of “Ghost Hunters” but a young crowd packed with screeching girls can make all the difference. Kids love the horror! If they can survive about an hour of somewhat painful boredom, they might just recommend the film to their friends. BIG might there.

This is just another case of film makers not understanding what truly scares people. Creating and building dread is integral to grabbing your audience and holding on tight. Once you’ve got them locked in, you can jump scare and freak them right into the ground. This convoluted story becomes mired in drama to the point where you’ll care little when you finally find out what is actually in the house. You’ll care even less when they take a stab at a twist ending, performed at the same blistering pace as the rest of the film. Note my sarcasm? The Haunting in Connecticut is not a bad movie, but it certainly is a flawed horror film. Call it an above average Lifetime original movie made for the Halloween season. Call it a superior Sci-Fi channel Saturday night thriller. Call it what it is … and keep waiting for something that might actually scare you.

2 1/2 out of 5

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  • Tristan Sinns

    Reviewed it over at Pretty Scary. I feel it came off sorely lacking in the scares department; they just used too many slick camera tricks and rapid editing that it just blew away any context of a ghostly haunting.

    For those of you who have seen Paranormal Activity, think of it in contrast. That film had long, long, long lingering shots (for a specific reason in the film) and I would argue that this really helped build the tension. The rapid glitz MTV video style editing of A Haunting in Connecticut really hurt it.

  • DeTuinman

    Found it pretty tame, same old, same old….

    This so called “true story” is big old patch work of tried and true ghost movies/stories….and has been debunked several times, even by the writer Ray Garton.
    Every horror movie seems to be based on a true story…
    Exactly that…a story…

    The original Japanese Ring was the last ghost movie that scared me, because it was not the same house on a graveyard schtick…

    This flick get’s a thumb’s down…

    The mind is like a parachute…it only works when it is open.

  • Rorschach

    Quick question…..are those damned sound stingers as omnipresent and annoying as they were in the trailer? Cause I swear that they used one every six seconds in the trailer for this, and it just made me not even want to bother with this film.

    If the stingers aren’t as overdone in the actual film, I might consider giving it a whirl, as I honestly enjoyed EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE and AN AMERICAN HAUNTING. I keep missing the dadgum real life story of this on the ID channel, too.

    Oh, and one more question before I go: what of the teenage cousin (I don’t know who played her) and her acting ability? She’s another weak spot I picked up on in the trailer. When she says “This is really freaking me out…” her expression and vocals signify constipation or irritation rather than genuine dread, terror, or fear. Seriously, her eyes are halfway closed!

    Anyway, yeah, if, as the review stated, the movie isn’t anything like the trailers would lead you to think it is, I might give it a look.

    • The Woman In Black

      I’d say the stingers just verge on being overdone. A couple of times they annoyed me, but then a couple of times they got me. I jumped for real at least twice. And the cousin (Amanda Crew) was fine. In fact, I thought everyone’s acting really elevated it above the norm, especially Koteas as the reverend and Gallner as the sick/haunted kid. I felt an emotional pull toward them both as well as Madsen, which probably is why I ended up really liking the film overall. It was moving, effective, and pretty damn spooky in places. I was very pleasantly surprised although I have to say there’s so much changed from the true story that it verges on ridiculous to even claim the film is based on it. End result: a solid 3.5/5 from me.

      • Morgan Elektra

        No surprise that I pretty much agree with ya, sis. I think it definitely had big weaknesses – the end was way too sappy, the secondary characters were woefully underdeveloped and I wished the research and revelation had been more than a montage in one scene – the beginning was very strong and the visuals early on were very well done. While it wasn’t great, it was decent and I appreciate that the filmmakers tried to build tension and be adult. Definitely a 3.5/5 for me too.

    • Nomad

      A friend of mine mentioned the stingers. He said it seemed like they were attacking at the slightest jumpy moment. I laughed and said there were almost as many stringed instrument moments as in Batman.

  • Sirand

    I’d put it in the pantheon of films like The Others and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It doesn’t break any new ground, but as conventional mainstream horror films goes, it’s solid, mature, well-acted and does what it does well. To constantly babble on about teenagers and PG-13 elements in a review is to completely misunderstand the movie.

    • Nomad

      I understood it just fine. We were pretty damn bored with it, and it wasn’t scary.

    • Heather Buckley

      I was looking forward to seeing this film because I LIKE ghost films — they are tricks. What makes these films scary are what doesn’t happen; it’s the score, the redirection. I get all weirded out and I love that feeling.

      Seeing everyone’s side, it kinda makes me feel like I want to see it more; but NOT if it is like The Others and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. More if it was like the Orphanage. Here we have three-dimensional characters that are sincere. It was wonderfully shot, acted, and shot. I know NOMAD is very much a fan of this film.

      I would maybe frame this conversation under different people’s expectation of the film AND how much sincerity they found in the family’s plight. I would also stay away from the words “babble” when trying to hold a debate about a film especially since you two know each other. Buz was able to disagree and state his case as a gentlemen. ^5 to Buz.

  • Lunablix

    I actually liked the movie a lot. It was different and refreshing to see something that wasn’t dumbed down like the remakes that have been coming out lately. I found it to be a good haunted house/ghost movie. I have to agree with what both Buz & Messiahman have said about the movie.

  • Messiahman

    What a wrongheaded, fanboyish review. The fact that we’re offered up genuine characters with real-life problems was something I found refreshing – this is an adult horror film with solid writing and exceptional acting. And yes, there are a ton of Fulci references throughout. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it works very well as a straight-up haunted house flick. The backstory is well-handled and suitably creepy, the jump scares for the most part work and the cancer storyline adds real emotional impact, buoyed by some terrific performances.

    As far as “creating and building dread,” that’s accomplished by establishing three-dimensional characters, which HAUNTING does quite well. I find it absurd that someone is comparing it to a Lifetime film simply because it has an emotional payoff for the characters – an emotional payoff that ties directly into the ghostly aspect, as well.

    And as far as the ridiculous “kids love the horror” line, it should be noted that this is not remotely a “kiddy” film – rather, it’s clearly aimed at a cross-audience.

    • Nomad

      Oh come on. Two cancer victims and a recovering alcoholic all in the same film. If that doesn’t warrant calling it a lifetime movie of the week…

      And I didn’t say it was a kiddy horror film, though it is PG13. I said kids will be the biggest segment scared by anything in this movie. The girl that went with me jumped once and was disappointed with the rest..and she’s easily scared. This had to be the first time I saw a horror film with kids in it and didn’t feel like they were in danger even once.

      • Sirand

        “Oh come on. Two cancer victims and a recovering alcoholic all in the same film. If that doesn’t warrant calling it a lifetime movie of the week…”

        You do know that’s what went down in real life, right?

        • Nomad

          And I wrote that I didn’t care. It plays like a country western song. All that was missing was a one legged dog.

          • Sirand

            People DO get cancer, y’know. So if you walk into a cancer ward, are you like “This is straight out of a Lifetime movie!”

            Still, pretty invalid gripe when you consider it’s the entire CRUX behind the real life events.

          • Nomad

            Said Andrew to the guy who lost his father and godmother to cancer…

          • Uncle Creepy

            OK, guys … enough. We’re quickly going from movie to personal. Don’t make me take off my shoe.

  • The Buz

    I rather enjoyed it. It was a good haunted house movie, with some genuinely strong characters. Besides a few Saw Editing things here there, the movie over all was solid stuff. Not to mention it was filled with tons of Fulici references (most notably House by the Cometary.

    The imagery especially was excellent. The make up effects were disgusting at times, and made for some very uneasy feeling moments.

    It’s not the second coming of Haunted House movies, but it’s good stuff, and above par what we’ve seen in the last few years from the genre (American Haunting for instances)

  • nakattack

    This is kind of disappointing, I’ll probably just wait to rent it on dvd.