Monday, October 11, 2010

The Haunting in Connecticut

That is a great visual.  When I looked at that poster, I wasn't sure what was happening --- is that kid vomiting liquid marble? --- but I thought it looked pretty cool.  Obviously, with a title like The Haunting in Connecticut, it must have something to do with ghosts, but that tag line threw me for a loop.  "Some things cannot be explained" sounds like a cop-out for a satisfying ending.  On the other hand, the poster claims that this film is based on a true story, so perhaps there's some spooky ambiguous ending.  All in all, I think this poster made the movie look pretty promising.

But you know what they say, rules and promises are made to be broken.

Sarah (Virginia Madsen) and Peter Campbell (Martin Donovan) have three children, one of who, Matt (Kyle Gallner), has cancer.  Matt is undergoing some experimental treatment at a hospital in Connecticut, but the commute takes over four hours each way, so the Campbells rent a place near the hospital to ease the strain on Matt.  The house is old, full of hidden closets and somewhat creepy rooms; in the basement, there is a door to a mysterious room that refuses to open for the family.  As soon as the Campbells start staying in the house, Matt starts to have strange dreams, both when he's awake and when he's asleep.  Unfortunately for him, these aren't visions of supermodel nude beaches, but of dead bodies being mutilated and the walls being filled with meat paste.  Assuming that the visions are a side effect of his experimental medicine, Matt keeps them to himself.  Surprisingly, that turns out to be a bad idea.  As the story goes on, we learn that the house was once a mortuary, which would be a creepy place to live, I'll admit; the place is still fully equipped, with the mystery room in the basement being the place where the magic happened.  That brings up an obvious question: What kind of Realtor rents a fully equipped funeral home to a family without making a casual mention of the building's history?  I'm not insisting that they make it sound awful, like, "Oh, and, if you happen to spend time in the basement, you might see some embalming tools.  No biggie, the previous owners touched dead things," but at least toss the term "mortuary" somewhere in the deal.  That is just the tip of the disturbing iceberg, though.  Eventually, Matt befriends a fellow cancer patient undergoing the same treatment who so happens to be a priest (Elias Koteas).  In a bizarre coincidence, this priest can see ghosts, too, and knows how to get rid of them.  What luck!  But can even Casey Jones help this family uncover the terrible secrets that lurk within their home?

I know, I know, it's a sucker's bet watching a movie because the poster looked cool.  Really, if publicists are doing their jobs, all movies should have at least somewhat intriguing posters.  Still, I saw the poster image and wanted to see what the deal was; I was rewarded with a visually cool moment in the film, surrounded by about 90 minutes of awful movie.

What makes this movie bad?  Well, the acting isn't great --- Kyle Gallner is a poor man's misshapen Devon Sawa, minus any talent --- but that's not the problem.  The premise could work; I'm not a huge fan of spooky ghost stories, but the effective ones tend to have rich atmospheres and let your imagination take over.  Unfortunately, the story goes for shock more than spookiness.  For most of the movie, Matt is the only character that reacts to the ghosts, but the ghosts are often shown as mini-scares in scenes with other characters.  That takes away the question of Matt's sanity and (since the ghosts don't affect anyone else) undermines the effectiveness of the ghosts.  Part of that is the script's fault, but first-time director Peter Cornwell deserves blame, too.  Under Cornwell's guiding hand, this ghost story was shot more like a slasher film, without a mysterious killer.  Ambiance was sacrificed for some cheap scares that didn't pay off.  Yes, the image from the poster is cool, and that scene was pretty cool-looking, too.  That's not nearly enough to make up for this boring, poorly executed attempt at horror.

Do you know what the worst part about the movie was, though?  Nobody ever asked this question, but there would not have been an answer if they did: The Campbells are renting the house; they still have a home four hours away...why don't they just leave when they realize that the rental is haunted?

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