The plot goes something like this: a family in turmoil...Mom (Virginia Madsen) is a big Christian, Dad (Martin Donovan) is a big drunk and son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is dying of cancer. They buy a house on a whim to avoid long drives for rigorous cancer treatments. The house is a bargain but has a "history"-turns out that it was a funeral parlor in which séances were conducted to raise the dead. Now the dead want revenge or possession of a soul or something. In other words the house is, um...haunted.
The performances are good, but the dialogue is hollow. Madsen is too composed given her situation to be believable, and Donovan is too exacting in his indecisiveness. Gallner shows some believable fear, disgust, pain and demonic glee when in the throes of hallucinations and/or possession, while Elias Koteas (a supremely underrated actor) provides the film's most solid performance as Reverend Popescu, who is also dying of cancer. He has no special powers to combat the ghosts-just dedication, patience, tolerance and a streak of nihilism.
The ideas are far-fetched yet almost cool. Add ghosts to an already tragic family drama, mix in a macabre funeral parlor, an evil embalming room, some bad grave sites, mediums barfing up ectoplasm, body engraving and séances and we should be off and running. Toss in the revelation that only when you are close to death can you see the dead, and you could have a tagline right up there with "I see dead people." Unfortunately, there is just too much going on, with one overbearing dramatic, traumatic scene after another. There is a hilariously bad tell-all "parents-in-crisis" montage wherein Dad plays guitar and slugs vodka till he pulls a Kurt Cobain/Pete Townshend moment and smashes his Squire guitar while mom prays like crazy to get her son back, juxtaposed with shots cutting back and forth to more ominous creepiness attacking Matt and his pummeled psyche.
In his first-time tackling a feature, director Peter Cornwall uses grainy, dark hues but then fuses too many ideas, unable to choreograph flashbacks with real time, turning everything into an extended mess. Chucking all his tricks in a blender to rattle around, he telegraphs his scares to the point where nothing is a surprise. He uses time-worn techniques kids play hide-and-seek to set up the audience for more cheap scares. The only weird originality is the satanic ritual of tattooing sayings onto soon-to-be dead bodies in Memento-style writing to ward off evil. Some unintentionally funny scenes include blood-mopping, a pillar of guts and maggots, black-crabs dancing and last but not least, a box of eye-lids.
The problem with haunted houses, demonic possession or tapping into the paranormal is that you have to believe. I want to believe, but the amount of gunk in this movie makes it an uphill battle. By trying so hard to fit in the "based on a true story/haunted house" genre, this movie stakes claim to an overpriced lot in the cul-de-sac behind Amityville and Hill House, and next door to every other movie that contains the word "haunting" in its title.
The Haunting in Connecticut
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas
Directed by: Peter Cornwell
Rated PG -13