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The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate, PG-13)

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film_haunting_sm.jpgThe film is a well-directed, well-paced little thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There's been some grumbling about this film, specifically over just how true to the actual events the movie is regarding its tale of a New England family who get more than they bargain for when they move into a house with a very questionable history. That's always the case, though, ain't it? I'm less concerned with that sort of thing than whether or not the film is, first, compelling as a movie, and second, satisfyingly scary for the viewer. To the first question, I say yes, thank you—and to the second, well, at times.

This Peter Cornwell-directed spookfest finds the Campbell family moving from their New York home to a place in upstate Connecticut where they'll be closer to the hospital where teenage Matt (Kyle Gallner) is receiving an experimental cancer treatment. Sara (Virginia Madsen), the matriarch of the family, loves her son and wants the best she can get for his condition, so she disregards her slight misgivings about the rather creepy Victorian home that's so conveniently available and roomy. Dad (Martin Donovan), a recovering alcoholic in imminent danger of relapsing, also loves Matt and his other three youngsters as well, but clearly is not prepared for the bizarre goings-on that commence in this former funeral parlor. Seems there are some angry, restless spirits in this place; they weren't exactly treated with loving care by the former owners. The son of said owners, Jonah (Erik J. Berg), had some clairvoyant abilities that helped him serve as a demonic messenger for the supernatural forces waiting to wreak havoc on all concerned. While things are going bump in the night and shadowy apparitions move amongst the Campbells here and there (sometimes noticed, more often not), the poor family tries to get a grip, partially aided by a troubled but well-meaning local reverend (Elias Koteas, in a distinctively sincere turn).

That's all you really need to know, plot-wise, as it's best to experience films like this without knowing too much. And it is a well-directed, well-paced little thriller, notable for how often it does not show too much as well as its understanding of the atmospheric buildup. Films like this almost always fall victim to horror movie clichés; the fact that this one has taste, patience and a rare degree of self-confidence in its actors and spooky setting is laudable. The story progresses at a good clip, and the editing is spot-on most of the time, letting you see just enough to wonder but not enough to lose interest. It doesn't have the big scares of similarly themed movies of the past like Poltergeist or The Haunting, and this may prove a letdown for some. But it keeps you engrossed, and Gallner turns in a performance of genuine pathos and conviction. I was somewhat ambivalent about Madsen and Donovan's performances, but the kids are fine, and so is Koteas. Overall, this is probably about a B+ overall, with enough suspense and atmosphere to make it a worthy film for fans of the haunted house genre. Hopefully the Campbells made enough dough (or will, through publicity) to offset those apparent "factual discrepancies" about which they've expressed annoyance. | Kevin Renick

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