A slight twist on the old horror flick is it schizophrenic hallucinations or tortured ghosts terrorizing a sick child staple, The Haunting In Connecticut is an irritating mass grave of surprisingly poignant moments, better than expected acting turns and puzzling unnecessary clichés. It’s the type of movie you really want to like for a modicum of reasons but ultimately cannot because it so overtly settles on the easy way out. To paraphrase a much better film which lives and dies amidst its own originality, this is what happens, Larry. This is what happens, Larry, when the screenwriter and director fuck their own story in the ass.
Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) has cancer, the type which causes one‘s parents to take out a second mortgage to cover radical new treatments. Sick of watching her son throw up on the side of the road during eight hour trips to the clinic, Matt’s mother (Academy Award Nominee Virginia Madsen) decides to rent a creepy old house in Connecticut. That the multi-level converted funeral home has a sordid and checkered past takes a backseat to the affordable price and ample living space.
After Matt and his father (Weeds’ Martin Donovan) discover a mortuary room previously used for séances and autopsies, a macabre back story begins to emerge in which the family finds a box of dismembered eyelids and a library full of old news stories on a shady doctor and his assistant who all vanished mysteriously. The mortician and his teenage counterpart were apparently a bit famous back in the day and hosted both scholars and the bereaved at their weekly communions with the dead.
It‘s really a nice little horror story with a brilliant usage of creepy children’s poems and periodic games of hide and seek with Matt’s littler siblings. But as the story unravels slowly and gracefully, at least at first, it loses its pacing and tone as The Haunting In Connecticut decides to spell out every last detail in plain English. It’s as if the screenwriter got nervous he might have been a little too far out on a limb and threw down a safety harness in case things didn’t really work out. Think Lost if each episode contained a ten minute interlude explaining polar bears and the hatch. Even worse than the oversharing, though, is a poorly developed side plot exposing the father as an emotionally-abusive alcoholic which seems to have been implemented only to add ten minutes of screen time to make the film an hour and a half. The priest who shows up halfway through (maybe to give us a precious fourth character who actually matters?) also doesn’t stop the freefall, as he is somehow pushed beyond just interesting side note and becomes arguably the second most important character in the movie.
The Haunting In Connecticut forgets many of the horror clichés we’ve come to expect, but unfortunately, it replaces many of those irritating unoriginalities with generic plotlines more common to film in general. The dad is a recovering alcoholic who drives by bars and stares in the windows. The mom is a loving nurse-like figure who can’t connect on an emotional level with her dying son. A wiser old priest enters at just the right moment to provide an essential service. And on-and-on it goes to the fiery final showdown which not only confuses but firmly cements our indifference toward any of the characters.
Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with cottage cheese, The Haunting In Connecticut seems to have betrayed its deliciousness by adding in random, time-tested elements people seem to love without the slightest sense of what the new ingredients would do to the overall taste. Paying nine dollars to consume it might not be the right call, but you could do a hell of a lot worse at the video rental store.