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THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009)
Loosely based on a true story, The Haunting in Connecticut is about a boy, Matthew Campbell, dying of cancer who ends up living—or perhaps dying might be a better choice of words—at a somewhat innocuous-looking haunted house in, well—you guessed it—Connecticut. We get Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan as Matthew Campbell's parents, ensnared in a troubled marriage and dealing with a son fighting cancer while they fight to keep the family together. Kyle Gallner is the stricken Matthew, their dying boy, and Elias Koteas is a dour priest on the verge of death himself.
I won't wax cynical on this film as I'll be forthright and state now I liked it better than most other critics did. The film generally seems to be more popular with the casual movie fan than with the learned critics' circle.
The "true story" involves the Snedeker family and their experience in a house in the small town of Southington, Connecticut. In the film, they are renamed the Campbells and the Snedeker account is taken at face value with great literary license, some might argue, to simply provide a marketable plot for a haunted house film. In other words, the original Snedeker story—be it true or false—is a great plot for a Hollywood-style ghost story and who in their right mind would let something as silly as the truth get in the way of a good story? You be the judge if this really happened. Do a search on YouTube and you will find all sorts of interesting interviews with the real Snedeker family.
The dying boy, Matthew, finds himself a resident of this new home, mostly because of its proximity to his cancer treatment facility. Dad, upon moving the family into this great bargain house for rent, soon discovers the house used to be a mortuary in earlier years. But with money tight, the Campbell family is pretty much left with little alternative but to make do.
For once, here is a movie that presents as convincing a reason to move into a haunted house than any you will find in recent years. Matthew's family tires of making the long commute back and forth to a hospital in upstate Connecticut for his treatment. So it makes sense that it would be less taxing on the family if they rent an old house that could cut the commute time for them. It is only after they rushed to rent it, the family discovers it was a mortuary at one time. They are in a pickle. They have to take it. Hey, at least the first month's rent was free.
The house was more than a mortuary. Occult practices took place there back in the early Twentieth Century. Seances with the dead and necromancy, a so-called form of magic in which the practitioner seeks to call a spirit of a deceased person, was something that commonly occurred in the house as well.
Once they settle in, Matthew begins to see visions of himself through the eyes of a boy who lived back then, Jonah. This kid participated in the strange rituals and perhaps due to his innate prowess as a medium, led the bizarre seances that took place in the home. However, After Matthew and his siblings discover some old photographs in the house, his visions are beginning to make more sense and they learn about Jonah and the funeral director who lived in the house with him.
This funeral director was Ramsey Aickman. He sort of controlled Jonah or forced him to do these seances. Moreover, instead of burying his customers in the neighborhood graveyard, this guy would tattoo the dead bodies and cut off their eyelids so the dead would be bound to the home. As the film unfolds, we are led to believe it is Jonah who is the malicious spirit of this house. Could it be that he is just a victim of Aickman? It could be that he wants to connect with Matthew to help free the house of its other angry trapped spirits. Naturally, these spirits are not going to be happy campers.
I didn't channel any spirits while I watched this film, but it did channel my attention quite well. I began to ask myself a lot of questions: Is there some macabre fate that called the boy to this home to begin with? Is this house part of some sort of supernatural predestination for his soul, mayhap that is one step in the grave already? What reasons exist that empower this dying boy to develop a connection to the ranks of the suffering dead?
The set up for Haunting in Connecticut is quite different. It involves a cancer patient. All too often in haunted house films it seems that some dumb family comes along to put some undisclosed trouble behind them and buy up the big old mansion that just looks like it could be a hidden real estate gem, then they slowly meet the shy townsfolk who tell them about all the families that were murdered in the house. Whereas in The Haunting In Connecticut, we get a grieving stressed-beyond-the grave situation by having the sickly child's family at their wits end, desperately looking for a way to make his treatment less painful, for Matthew and themselves. Under such pretexts, It would seem more than believable that these folks might move into a house, which was later revealed to be a mortuary.
Many of the effects in this film were topnotch. There is an awful lot of floating ectoplasm, which is neat from a creep-me-out perspective. Ectoplasm has never been proved to have existed and it seems eerie to say the least. It is best described as floating, embodied spirits oozing out from a medium's mouth, ear and eyes and what have you. It looks good too in phony Victorian photographs or in orgy like seances with mediums, which this film is chock full of in that regards. The film hit a high note in creepiness when it was revealed bodies were stacked in the walls of the house. Bodies that were sort of mummified, tattooed and missing their eyelids!
The priest dying of cancer, who befriended the boy and helped him in the end, was a flawless tie-in to that added religious patina of realism. After all, ever since the Exorcist, you need a priest to deal with demons and ghosts right? This priest was a well thought out character too. He was dying and thus formed a logical connection with the boy. He didn't seem altogether convinced that where he was going was filled with clouds and harps either.
Yes, there is the typical plot twist that the scary ghost, Jonah, was really a good one. Did I say that? Yes, there are people standing in mirrors that shouldn't be there. There are all sorts of distorted weird reflections and things that go bump in the night, but isn't that why we pay the money to see a haunted house film to begin with?
All in all, I thought the film was an above average to very good haunted house yarn. In terms of acting, cinematography, special effects, spine-tingling moments, musical score, The Haunting in Connecticut is as good a scare as I have seen in recent years. When the film was over, it got me thinking about my own house. Surely, nothing like a seance as presented in the film occurred at our humble Cape Cod-style? I would highly doubt that, but nonetheless, when The Haunting In Connecticut was over, I found myself tapping the walls on the way to bed!