Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting in Connecticut **
Directed by:
Peter Cornwell
Written By: Adam Simon & Tim Metcalfe.
Starring: Virginia Madsen (Sara Campbell), Kyle Gallner (Matt Campbell), Elias Koteas (Reverend Popescu), Amanda Crew (Wendy), Martin Donovan (Peter Campbell), Sophi Knight (Mary Campbell), Ty Wood (Billy Campbell), Erik J. Berg (Jonah), John Bluethner (Ramsey Aickman), D.W. Brown (Dr. Brooks).

The Haunting in Connecticut is another one of those “ghost” story movies that seem to be popular right now. The film is well acted, and well made, so if this movie is your type of thing, than you will probably enjoy it. For me, the film was simply too clich├ęd, relied too heavily on “boo” moments and doesn’t really do anything all that scary. It is effective at what it tries to be, but I don’t think the filmmakers really set their sights high enough.

Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is a teenage boy dying of cancer. Every week, his mother Sara (Virginia Madsen) has to drive him hours from home to Connecticut where he is a part of a cancer trial that is probably his last hope. The treatment leaves him in pain and nauseous, so even though the family cannot really afford it, they agree to rent a house close to the hospital where they can stay. They only home in their price range that meets their needs, is an old, run down place.

They move in, and almost immediately strange things begin to happen to Matt. He sees a teenage boy in the house, starts to hear strange noises, and overall thinks he’s starting to hallucinate. The treatment could be causing this, but since he risks being thrown out if he reveals them, he keeps it to himself. The only person he confides in is a fellow cancer patient, and former Reverand (Elias Koteas), who offers support and advice.

I don’t need to tell you that it is not the treatment causing Matt to see things. At first, no one but the Reverand seems to believe him that strange things are going on, but soon it becomes fairly undeniable that something is wrong with that house.

The film is effectively, creepily well made by director Peter Cornwell. The house is a dark, mysterious place, full of hidden rooms, dark corners, a creepy attic, and a dumbwaiter that, of course, no one seems to be able to resist exploring. The scares in the movie are most of the “boo” moment variety – those moments where something appears from out of nowhere to shock and scare the audience. This is a cheap kind of thrill, but effective if you don’t have high expectations. The performances – especially by Gallner, Madsen and Koteas – are effective in that they create real characters out of their roles, and not just cookie cutter people meant only to be pawns in the game. I wish they had not felt the need to make the father, Martin Donovan, into a drunk struggling with sobriety, and the two young kids, and the hot cousin, in the film don’t really add anything, except more characters to scare.

The audience I saw the film with, made up of mostly teenage girl, seemed to be fine with the movie. They screamed in all the right places, and generally seemed to enjoy the film. Good for them. For me, the film never really taps into that primal spot needed to make a truly effective horror movie. For me, horror films are most effective when they make me ask myself what I would do in the same situation, and even more effective when I realize that I would probably do the same thing the characters do, even if it ends up being an exercise in futility. Here, the answer seems clear from the outset – move! But the characters take far too long to catch up with me in the film, so for me, they film is merely okay. It’s not boring, but it’s not really scary either. And for a horror film to work, that’s one of the requirements.

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