Judge Daryl Loomis is known as the Demon of Denton.
God bless the station master.
The Haunting in Connecticut arrived in theaters in 2009 backed by a fantastically chilling trailer and saw moderate box office success. Nothing special, mind you, but for a standard ghost story with a couple of B-level actors, it did fairly well for itself. By no means, though, does a moderate success warrant a sequel. Yet, here we have The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, and despite the ridiculous title and total lack of connection to the original, it is, thankfully, a better film.
Facts of the Case
Lisa and Andy Wyrick (Abigail Spencer, Mad Men, and Chad Michael Murray, House of Wax) have just moved with their daughter, Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind, Enter the Void), to a beautiful old country home in Georgia. Lisa's sister, Joyce (Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica), soon moves onto the property, as well, and it appears they're going to be very happy here. Soon, though, Heidi starts talking to an unseen man named Mr. Gordy (Grant James, Tombstone), who tells her things about the house. They all think it's very cute until Mr. Gordy starts telling her darker things and Heidi starts being terrorized by spirits from every direction. Soon, the history of the property starts coming to life and its dark secrets threatens the entire family.
Aside from being a family ghost story, Ghosts of Georgia has no similarity to the original film. The slate that we see in the behind the scenes footage reads "The Haunting in Georgia," so I suspect the idea of presenting it as a direct sequel happened late in the game. Regardless of why the decision was made, it's a very different movie, and a much better one.
Where The Haunting in Connecticut traded on jump cuts, quick edits, and cheap scares, along with a bit of really bad family strife issues, Ghosts of Georgia is all atmosphere. There are very few real thrills in the movie, just an overwhelmingly eerie feeling and a strong focus on the darkness of the past. The original had some history attached to it, as well, but it was unfocused and pretty ridiculous. Here, the back story involves the Underground Railroad and the Station Master who originally owned the property. He ran escaped slaves north through his land, was murdered by the locals for his work, and was lionized by the slaves' descendants all the way up to when the movie takes place. But what Mr. Gordy, the grandson of the Station Master, reveals to Heidi is another story, one far less heroic than the recorded history and accounts for all the trapped spirits in the woods.
The plot may not entirely hold water, but it's an interesting tale that delivers on what it promises: creepy gothic horror that is based on true events. Truth, of course, is relative in the case of a ghost story, but reading reports of this incident from the local papers confirms that much of what director Tom Elkins and writer David Coggeshall, both making their feature debuts, brings to the table. Sure, they've jazzed certain elements up for the sake of drama, but they stay close enough to the reports to give it a certain amount of earnestness that many similar tales can't manage.
Some of this is due to the screenplay and direction, but the real strength of the film comes from the photography and the performances. Yaron Levy's cinematography is simply gorgeous, especially for a movie of this type. His framing and style adds immensely to the gothic atmosphere, turning what could easily have been a cheap bunch of jump scares into a much creepier and more effective feel. The performances are good all around, as well. Spencer and Sackhoff take the lead and are believably fun as sisters that share a spiritual gift but deal with it differently and the young Lind is quite fine for a child actor. There's even a cameo from Cicely Tyson (Fried Green Tomatoes, which is welcome and adds a lot to the story. Ghosts of Georgia has one of the better casts for women in a horror movie than I've seen in a long time and it really works well. Together they bring more compassion than fear to the movie and it helps the film be more of a chilly mood piece than a genuine thriller.
I'm frankly surprised I enjoyed Ghosts of Georgia as much as I did. Diminished expectations, I'm sure, had plenty to do with it, but there's more to it than that. It's a ghost story with a lot of atmosphere, but not a lot of violence. What violence is there is short and effective without being particularly gruesome and while also serving the story. Elkins has done well for himself with his first feature and I'm interested to see where he goes from here.
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia arrives on DVD from Lions Gate with a very solid package. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is quite solid, showing off the lovely photography very well. Black levels are nice and solid, while the colors are realistic and pretty. The surround mix is strong, as well, with good spatial differentiation and ambient effects in the rear channels that really help deliver the gothic atmosphere. On a technical level, I really couldn't ask for much more from a standard definition disc.
The extras, however, are more numerous than they are interesting. It starts with the Ultraviolet copy of the film, something I've never seen the point of, but for those who like watching movies on their phones, here it is. The disc continues with an audio commentary with the director, the writer, and producer Brad Kessell. It's an average discussion in which they talk about the production with pride, but they don't have a lot that's terribly interesting to say about it. Moving on, we have "Seeing Ghosts: The True Story of the Wyricks," a ten minute featurette that presents us with interviews with the family. While there are plenty of details in the movie that don't represent their experiences, they clearly and firmly believe in what happened, so it should be mildly interesting for the believers out there. A few deleted scenes, an reel of outtakes, and a trailer close out the disc.
I may not believe in spirits haunting the Earth, but I do love a good ghost movie. Done right, it can generate a brilliant level of creepy atmosphere that slashers and monster movies have a much harder time with. Ghosts of Georgia may not do everything right, but the gorgeous photography and fine performances add a lot to what Elkins has put together. It's not perfect, but it's a very solid production that I have no problem recommending to genre fans.
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