Frights fall flat in a hollow "Haunting in Connecticut"

March 30, 2009, midnight | By Fran Djoukeng | 13 years, 1 month ago

Mild horror film muffled in jerky atmosphere

Hide-and-go-seek is a classic game of finding hidden people in a happy house. Then again, you might seek out moldy maggot-infested trinkets from the twisted séances of a fanatic mortician in a haunted attic. If that's your idea of a discovery, there's more hidden trauma to be found watching "The Haunting in Connecticut," a creepy spectacle combining ancient bodies and supernatural history. "Haunting" is edgy, but with too many shocks and slacking suspense moments, it loses intensity.

Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen) must keep her family intact while she manages the healthcare of her cancer-stricken teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner). To shorten the commute to Matt's treatment facility, the family moves to a Victorian mansion, and soon after, Matt begins to experience hallucinations. After the family learns the house was a refurbished funeral parlor, the bloody visions tormenting Matt and the ghostly forces terrifying the family members escalate. The family receives guidance and support from Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas) and Matt becomes determined to dismantle the mysterious spirits invading the house against a dwindling time frame. Based on a true story, the "Haunting" tells the ordeal of a 1980s family with paranormal events.

Among those factual accounts pervasive in the movie include voices snickering underneath the floorboards, murky shadows in the mirrors and scarred hands hanging from the ceiling. "Haunting" begins well-paced with abrupt shots and eerie sounds - never short on chilling, heart-pounding moments. Especially memorable moments are when Matt imagines his mother mopping the floor with blood and when his entire body is scarred with bloody lettering etched in his skin.

The special effects aren't too bad, and the ectoplasm oozing from a blue-eyed medium is especially shocking. The dark angles showing the basement and outside cuts of the ominous house are create a mysterious impression. Needless, however, was the appearance of a charred body confronting Matt. Like other excessive visual imagery, it diverted focus from the storyline.

After a while, the successive flashbacks and sepia-toned images exhibiting defiled corpses, brutal séances and mortuary messes overplay the fright factor and make the plot increasingly indiscriminate. As the plot progressed, the excessive pop-ups and unnecessary cuts of gloomy opaque ghosts lurking behind doorways overshadowed the forceful acting in the movie.

Mother and son bonding moments throughout the film added a strong, emotional backbone to the movie. Gallner and Madsen exchange heartfelt scenes of love and grief. Madsen is able to play a resilient and protective mother quite convincingly. Her persistence for God's mercy and prayers for her son's survival is so deep it becomes a driving and poignant energy throughout the movie.

Taken as a whole, "Haunting" bears a faint similarity in environment and aura to horror flicks like "The Amityville Horror" and the strands of grisly outbursts and vivid ghoul actions are tame in comparison to other horror flicks like "The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” The flickering lights and opening doors are standard for his genre, leaving hard-core horror fans disappointed. The uneven distribution of macabre episodes and the redundancy almost turns comical. In the last 25 minutes, the movie churns up a fiery and suspenseful sequence of events that could have been dispersed throughout the film in order to create a smoother build-up of horror.

Although the film could have amplified the trite scream tactics, it presents a serviceable horror tale based on a true story. Without those tiring scare scenes, a decent drama emerges, about the heartbreak a family undergoes with a life-threatening illness. Even though "The Haunting in Connecticut" can elicit some gasps, it won't extort quintessential nightmares.

"The Haunting in Connecticut" (92 minutes) is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of horror and disturbing images. Now playing everywhere.

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