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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

The Haunting in Connecticut  (2009)
1 Stars
Directed by Peter Cornwell.
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Amanda Crew, Martin Donovan, Ty Wood, Sophi Knight, Elias Koteas, Erik J. Berg, John Bluethner, D.W. Brown, John B. Lowe.
2009 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for terror and disturbing images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 26, 2009.
Based on alleged true events that occurred in Southington, Connecticut, circa 1987 (and previously told in a 2002 Discovery Channel documentary), "The Haunting in Connecticut" strives to reach the standards set by 1979's "The Amityville Horror," but instead comes off resembling more closely 1983's cheeseball "Amityville 3-D." Director Peter Cornwell, making his feature debut, never met a jump scare or flash cut that he didn't like, and so he uses these two devices ad nauseum to tell a story that would have been infinitely more effective had it been understated and character-based. Alas, both of these things fly right out the window by the 15-minute mark, and the picture only grows sillier with each passing moment.

With cancer-stricken teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) needing medical treatment hundreds of miles from home, concerned mother Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen) opts to rent a house nearer to the hospital in hopes of keeping the rest of the family—father Peter (Martin Donovan), son Billy (Ty Wood), daughter Mary (Sophi Knight), and niece Wendy (Amanda Crew)—closer together. The spacious fixer-upper Sara decides upon comes at a great bargain, but what she decides to withhold from the rest of the family is that it was once a funeral parlor.

It is no sooner that they have moved in when Matt, his bedroom in the basement next to the former embalming room, begins experiencing spectral visions of dead people. Also visiting him is a sort of gateway to the past, where he catches glimpses of mortician Ramsey Aikman (John Bluethner) and necromancy-powered young assistant Jonah (Erik J. Berg) in the midst of ectoplasmic seances. As the spooky happenings are gradually experienced by the rest of the family, Matt's condition worsens. It soon becomes apparent the possessed forces within the house aren't about to let the Campbells leave without a fight.

"The Haunting in Connecticut" begins with promise, opening on a collection of creepy vintage post-mortem photographs before introducing the very real plight of a family dealing with a gravely ill son. As soon as the lot of them move into the one-time funeral home, the film quickly derails as scene after scene becomes mere setup for predictable "boo!" moments, overly flashy editing, and hokey CGI effects. The characters stop feeling authentic and instead become flimsy pawns in director Peter Cornwell's bag of cheap scares.

Attempts at drama are flimsy and underdeveloped; there is an unintentionally funny montage of Sara and Peter tearfully breaking down (and breaking things) in separate locations as they fear for son Matt, and Peter's alcoholism is a subplot that comes and goes with the clumsiness of klutzy literary housekeeper Amelia Bedelia. As for the extended nighttime climax that borrows from "The Exorcist," "The Shining," "Psycho," "The Others," and "The Ring," it is so packed with silly events that all one can do is roll their eyes at the lunacy. Either the screenplay by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe (2001's "Bones") was torn to shreds in the post-production cutting room, or these scribes have some serious explaining to do.

The actors are done in by the poor writing. Virginia Madsen (2007's "The Number 23") wavers between heartfelt determination and soapy overacting as matriarch Sara, while Martin Donovan (2006's "The Sentinel") drops in and out of the proceedings at random as her troubled husband Peter. Kyle Gallner (2005's "Red Eye") is a bit better as the besought Matt, believably looking weak, nauseous, frightened and dangerous at all the right moments. As Matt's teen cousin Wendy, Amanda Crew (2008's "Sex Drive") is too talented for this underdeveloped role; nothing is learned about Wendy throughout, and that includes why she is living with the Campbells. Finally, Elias Koteas (2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") shows up for a few scenes as ailing Reverend Popescu, whom Matt turns to for help. He needn't have bothered.

The greatest of fears in that of the unknown, and this is what director Peter Cornwell has missed the mark on. Individual scenes build apprehension—i.e. a fluttering bedsheet that might be a hurt bird or something else, or the closed-tight embalming room that the family, at first, cannot get into to see what is on the other side of the door. For a very brief time, there is even the suggestion that Matt's visions are mere hallucinations, brought about by his chemotherapy. This provocative notion unfortunately is ruined when an apparition appears to the loud sound of a music stinger in an early scene that Matt is not present in. Indeed, the moment the ghosts show themselves, which is almost immediately, the genuine horror dissipates and stock modern-day genre conventions take over. There is a defeated laziness to the filmmaking in "The Haunting in Connecticut" that cannot be ignored or denied, and the bad taste it puts in the viewer's mouth lingers long after the end credits.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman