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Review: 'Haunting in Connecticut' offers more atmosphere than genuine scares

Friday, March 27, 2009

(Photo)
Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner are shown in "The Haunting in Connecticut."
(AP Photo/Lionsgate, Rebecca Sandulak)
LOS ANGELES -- The dead are angry, which manifests itself in the usual ways in "The Haunting in Connecticut."

Creaking floorboards, slamming doors, flickering lights -- you've seen it all before, and it's all here again. In theory, you'd think they'd have time to come up with inventive ways to frighten us, being dead as they are.

The first feature from director Peter Cornwell offers more in the way of atmosphere than genuine scares, even as it plays up its supposedly based-on-a-true-story origins, "Amityville Horror"-style.

Virginia Madsen, the star of such films as "Candyman" and returning to terror following her Oscar-nominated work in "Sideways," stars as Sara Campbell, who moves with her family to a rickety old Connecticut Victorian. The goal was to be closer to the hospital where her teenage son, Matt (Robert Pattinson look-alike Kyle Gallner), has been receiving cancer treatments.

Turns out the place used to be a funeral home, where all kinds of graphic stuff was done to the corpses. (No wonder the rent was so cheap, Sara muses for an uncomfortable laugh.) And in no time, Matt starts seeing things: blood on the floor, old-timey people holding seances in sepia tones, bodies that have been elaborately mutilated.

Is he hallucinating from the drugs he's on as part of new clinical trial, or is he really experiencing a psychic connection with Jonah, the long-deceased clairvoyant teenager who took part in these ghastly rituals? Perhaps the fact that he chose to live in the basement -- with its ominously locked secret room -- has something to do with it. ("Maybe they sealed it off for storage," says Matt's dad, played by an underused Martin Donovan in a role that hints at a nasty alcoholic past, only to abruptly drop it.)

Working from a script by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, Cornwell telegraphs his scares, too many of which are cheap; you know when you see a mirror, for example, that some dark apparition will show up in its reflection, accompanied by a loud, shrieking jolt. And the others are so repetitive, it's impossible not to see them coming. There's nothing subtle or original here.

Elias Koteas brings some understated substance, though, in the obligatory role of the priest who tries to rid the house of its pent-up spirits. Koteas' Reverend Popescu is the only one who believes Matt, but he also sympathizes with him: As a fellow cancer patient, he believes they can both see the dead because they're so close to joining them.

But they're the only ones with any sort of vision. "The Haunting in Connecticut" is one of those frustrating horror movies in which people stay in the house way longer than they should. The average person would be out of there upon discovering the metal box full of severed eyelids.

"The Haunting in Connecticut," a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images. Running time: 92 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.


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