Lionsgate // 2009 // 102 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 14th, 2009
Based on True Events
I grew up in sunny Florida, where very little has been around longer than seventy years (the glaring exception is St. Augustine, the oldest continually occupied city in America). This makes me a little impressed when I head to New England, where it's often difficult to find a dwelling that's less than a hundred years old, or so it seems to my Floridian eyes. If I lived in that area I'd be proud of the rich, and for America, long history of the area. Some seem to think that this is why all the haunting stories seem to happen in the Northeast; all that history leads to lots of ghosts. I've got another theory after watching The Haunting in Connecticut. I think the reason we get so many haunting stories out of that area is that they feel inadequate compared to the Europeans with their thousand-year-old buildings that they need some hauntings to make them special. Yeah, that's a bit of a stretch, but after watching the narrative contortions of Connecticut, I don't feel bad reaching a bit.
Matt (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars) is a teenager with cancer. His parents are struggling to keep things together, but they think a new experimental treatment might save their son. The only problem is that it's hours away in Connecticut, and Matt's mom (Virginia Madsen, ) is having trouble keeping up with the driving. They decide, despite the expense, to rent a house near the hospital. They get a steal on an old house, but naturally nothing is free. It turns out this house used to be a funeral parlor, and Matt starts seeing things that may not be benign.
Unless you're totally petrified by the very idea of a haunted house, a film needs to filter the experiences of the haunting through interesting characters to have an impact. Let's go through our cast to see what's on offer:
* Matt: Ostensibly the hero of our story, but ultimately unsatisfying because he doesn't seem to have much of a personality. He gets kudos for being really strong in the face of cancer, but ultimately he's a cipher. We experience much of the phenomena through his eyes, but because of his condition it's really hard to get a handle on his reactions.
* Matt's Mom: Virginia Madsen does an excellent job playing the put-upon mother who only wants what's best for her family, but she too is left a little thin around the edges as a character. The writers gave her religion in an attempt to build character, but it seems tacked on rather than of a piece.
* Matt's Dad: He's a recovering alcohol who will apparently do anything for his family, including selling his beloved and restored truck to help get cash for the family. He's so stereotypically good (except when he weakens and takes a drink) that it's hard to feel anything for him at all, and he doesn't have that much to do with the paranormal stuff anyway.
* Reverend Popescu: Elias Koteas plays the wise old man of the film, explaining the mechanics of Matt's interaction with the "spirits." He's also the key to ridding the house of its inhabitants, but his role is so durn cliché that even Elias Koteas can't rescue it from being obnoxious.
None of these characters (or the other minor characters like Matt's sibling and cousins) really make the situation interesting for the viewer, which means the story and the scares have to make up for the loss. Neither are up to the task. The idea of a funeral parlor where black magic was done isn't a bad one, but it's not investigated nearly enough, and a late-game twist increases the drama but makes the whole backstory even less clear. It's not certain why the black magic was happening -- whether it was money, fame, or stupidity at bottom. The scares are fine for what they are, but the film drags too much to make them effective. No rhythm (or reason) operates to give the film a consistent feeling. Instead, we have scary scenes interspersed with the awkward aftermath.
The Haunting in Connecticut isn't a total waste. All the performances are above average for a film of this type. I especially enjoyed Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen, although Kyle Gallner was almost as impressive in a pretty thankless role.
In the unrated cut, the filmmakers didn't shy away from creepy imagery. There's not much gore to speak of, but there are some pretty cool effects involving writing on skin with a scalpel, some ectoplasm, and some great makeup effects. I don't think the film is worth watching just for the effects, but they certainly make it easier to appreciate.
Finally, the Blu-ray release for this film is more than I expected. The audiovisual presentation is up to the usual standards of a recent Hollywood film. Much of the film is dark, yet detail and saturation remain high, and blacks are well rendered. The audio, including the gratuitous "stings" on the soundtrack, is well-done, with a decent amount of directionality and easily audible dialogue.
The extras, however, are where this disc shines. Combining an equal look at both the film's production as well as the haunting that inspired it, the extras start off with commentaries on the unrated cut by the director and producers, as well as the cast and crew. They dish out production information as well as some of the spookier aspects of working on the film. For more production info we have a featurette on the making of the flick, as well as deleted scenes to provide another glimpse into the film's various incarnations. For those more interested in real-life hauntings, there's a two-part featurette investigating the haunting that inspired the film, as well as a featurette on postmortem photography, which has a few moments in the film.
Although haunted house aficionados and those scared by things that go bump in the night might appreciate it, there's little else to recommend this disc other than a fine Blu-ray presentation. Horror fans looking for something other than the recent crop of "torture porn" might get a kick out of some of the creepier moments, but this is almost certainly a rental rather than a purchase disc.
The Haunting in Connecticut is guilty of failing to spook.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy