(We're reposting this review from SXSW to coincide with the film's theatrical release this weekend)
By: William Goss
Oh, actual events. Long have you reigned as the trump card in horror marketing, and only slightly less long have you been exposed as mostly malarkey. That hasn't stopped scarier films from finding their fans, nor the hokum from earning its opening weekend before vanishing into a blur of like-minded teen-targeting supernatural fare. Peter Cornwell's The Haunting in Connecticut falls firmly into the latter category, a run-of-the-mill spooker that often opts for Dolby jolts and Avid farts over character investment that itself rarely extends beyond asking why special effects happen to good people.
The crux of Connecticut is based on the allegedly true story in which a family found themselves terrorized in their new home, a former mortuary, back in 1987. While eldest son Matt (Kyle Gallner) receives and recovers from treatments for his cancer, he alone finds spirits roaming the house and tormenting his dreams. His parents (Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan) just try keep him comforted, assuring him and themselves that it's simply a side effect, but a similarly ill priest (Elias Koteas) suggests that being close to death has indeed put them closer to the realm of the dead, which is in turn bringing escalating harm to the household... I'm not sure what's worse: that most of the scare shots in the film are accompanied by the lazy shriek of violins, or that several other moments are left to sound effects, thus proving how effective the reveal of a shadowy figure can be when handled with restraint. Based on a true story or not, there's something to be said for the sinister nature of The Strangers' main money shot, in which a menace merely slips into frame as they might in your very own home. Here, we're subjected to a score that's about as content with how these actual events might've actually rolled out as we are, and it's a pity that quick cuts and loud noises are once again the name of the game.
Speaking of the usual, the usual parade of specters and maggots make their appearance, though carved-up corpses and boxes of snipped eyelids are certainly less passé and uniquely creepy in comparison. See, when it wants to, considerable atmosphere and dread permeates The Haunting in Connecticut, but that goodwill is almost inevitably botched by more obvious beats to come, whether melodramatic or mysterious in tone. (At least The Amityville Horror '05 can boast a relative consistency of peril, but that's a concern of Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe's ramshackle screenplay above all else.)
As for the cast, Gallner balances his shifting role as tormented and tormenter with consistent chops, and in a parallel part, Erik Berg sells a lot of anguish under a lot of visual gimmickry and with nearly no dialogue. Madsen is a doting and sobbing mother in equal measure; Donovan's father is convincing enough until he falls off the bandwagon and disappears for a significant portion of the film; Amanda Crew is simply a good sport as a startle-prone
For the twenty-, thirty-, forty-somethings who've seen any other movie with the word 'Haunting' in the title, there's not much new here in terms of frights, but if you'd been sold on all of those anyway, there's probably nothing stopping you anyway. The rest of us don't pay to be skeptical, though; we pay to be scared, and no actual-events disclaimer should have to make up that. To whoever's ready and willing to give us the next good haunted house movie, may I suggest that you don't worry about making it real, so long as you make it real scary.