If you have read any of my other reviews, then it should be obvious that when it comes to film techniques of horror movies, I prefer the old skool, atmospheric style to all the modern flashy pizzazz. I like establishing shots that capture the haunted house and sit long enough on the screen to embed the place into my mind. I like shadows to slowly creep around the corners. I like a patient camera that captures a ghost leisurely trespassing across a room. Sounds and music are for the background and they should set the mood with careful effort.
Before watching this movie, I had a hunch that The Haunting in Connecticut would have none of the aforementioned style. And I was right – it most certainly did not. I had based my hunch on taglines or reviews that were largely negative.
From rottentomatoes.com –
“35th boo scare in as many minutes,” (Nick Rogers, Suite 101.com)
“A run-of-the-mill spooker that often opts for Dolby jolts and Avid farts over character investment” – (William Goss – Cinematical)
The Haunting in Connecticut is loaded with high-octane scares. Ghosts come and go like annoying flashes of light. Their appearances are usually accompanied by loud, “jolting” sounds. (Good word choice, William Goss!) Through the eyes of the protagonist as he becomes possessed by a spirit, movie viewers see glimpses of haunting scenes from a long time ago. These glimpses flash on the screen back to back as if there was some kind of editing contest that awards the greatest number of shots within a 30 second sequence.
As I already mentioned, I am not a fan of this style of filmmaking. However, from the beginning, fully aware of my bias, I was hoping that underneath this not-so-subtle style, I would find something that I liked about the movie. Underneath the flashes and jolts, will there be some redeeming qualities? I did find things that I liked, but what I found was not enough to redeem the film. In addition, I also found more things I didn’t like as well.
Matthew Campbell is a teenager that ails with cancer. He and his family live in New York, but Matthew is receiving special treatment from a hospital in Connecticut. To avoid the continuous long drives, they rent out a house in Connecticut. The family can’t afford much, and the rent is too cheap to pass up. There’s a reason for the cheap price – the house used to be a funeral home. And some not so groovy stuff happened in this funeral home back in the day.
From day one, Matthew is seeing ghosts. Or is he hallucinating? No one else in his family is experiencing anything unusual. The medication he is taking for his cancer treatment is experimental. Hallucinations are one of the side effects. But there might be something else going on that explains why he is the only family member to experience these hauntings. At the treatment center, Matthew meets a pastor who is also suffering from cancer. He confides in him about what he sees. Reverend Nicholas Popescu understands. He explains to him that only people like them can understand. They are dying and therefore are living “in the valley of the shadow of death”. Those “in the valley” are most susceptible to ghostly encounters.
At this point, I was in. I was on the road toward viewing this movie as more positive than negative. Of course I knew Matthew wasn’t hallucinating. Or may the ghosts were somehow a byproduct of both the medication and his tiptoeing excursions among the shadows of death? I was intrigued and very much drawn into the whole valley of death concept – One foot in the mundane world and the other in the spectral plane. I imagined this experience to be kind of like a person half-asleep and seeing shards of a dream within the wakeful world. Add hallucinations into the mix along with a house that has a haunted history and one has the makings of a good story.
But then the film strays from mystery gets bogged down in formula. Soon the family begins to experience disturbances and this cheapens the plot of Matthew’s lone plight. Matthew and his cousin (or is it his sister? I forget) take it upon themselves to do library research about the house and its previous owners where they sort of have a Harry Potter and Hermione moment. Or are they Nancy Drew and some Hardy boy? Whichever. All I know is that it was lame.
The Haunting in Connecticut is loosely based on a book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting (1992) , written by Ray Garton along with “real” paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. (See my review of The Conjuring, which featured this “dynamic duo or the paranormal” as characters.) However, Garton has claimed that the accounts written in the book are unreliable and anything but true. So what you are getting with this film is a story loosely based on a book, which was loosely based on reality. A lot of “loosely” stuff going on here. Maybe this is the reason that it did not have a tightly themed plot?