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Review: ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’

Technically proficient, but with too many surprises

Posted: March 26, 2009 6:14 p.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 6:00 a.m.
Amanda Crew is shown in "The Haunting in Connecticut." If the movie has a flaw, it is too many surprises. Amanda Crew is shown in "The Haunting in Connecticut." If the movie has a flaw, it is too many surprises.
Amanda Crew is shown in "The Haunting in Connecticut." If the movie has a flaw, it is too many surprises.

"The Haunting in Connecticut" isn't based on just any old true story. No, it's based on "THE true story."

That would be the case of the Snedeker family, who in the 1970s moved into a ghost-infested house in Southington, Conn., and had no end of distress.

We know their story is true because it was vouched for by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal sleuths, who also backed up Bill Ramsey, a demonic werewolf who bit people, "The Amityville Horror," and the story of Jack and Janet Smurl, who inspired the movie "The Haunted."

Even so, I doubt it's "based on." More likely it was "loosely inspired by" a story.

At the end of the movie, the Snedeker house is consumed by flames, and yet we're told before the credits that it was restored, rehabbed and lived in happily ever after.

So much for any hopes of a sequel.

Of course, "Amityville" inspired a prequel, so I may not be safe.

I don't believe a shred of this movie is true.

Ray Garton, the author of "In a Dark Place," a book including the case, observed that the Snedekers couldn't get their stories straight.

When he reported this to the investigators, Wikipedia says, he was instructed to "make the story up" and "make it scary."

But what does that matter if all you're looking for is a ghost story? "

The Haunting in Connecticut" is a technically proficient horror movie, well acted by good casting choices.

We have here no stock characters, but Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan in a troubled marriage, Kyle Gallner as their dying son, and Elias Koteas as a grim priest. They make the family, now known as the Campbells, about as real as they can be under the circumstances.

The movie has an alarming score and creepy photography, and a house that doesn't look like it has been occupied since the original inhabitants ... died, let's say. So all the elements are there, and one of my fellow critics said he "screamed like a girl three times," although he is rather known for doing so.

There are two screamable elements: (1) surprises and (2) specters.

The surprises are those moments when a hand, a face, a body, a body part or (usually) a cat leaps suddenly into the frame, and you jump in your seat and then say, "Aw, it was only a cat." Or a face, a body part, a vampire bat, etc.

The specters involve some ghostly apparitions that may or may not be physical. There are so many of them that the movie, set in Connecticut but filmed in Canada, has credits for "ghost coordinators" in both Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Having seen Guy Maddin's brilliant "My Winnipeg," I believe the ghosts coordinate themselves there.

Matt, the Campbell's son, is dying of cancer and must be driven many miles for his radiation treatments. Madsen, playing his mother, makes an "executive decision" to buy a house in the distant town so Matt, with radiation burns and nausea, doesn't have to drive so far.

She gets a really good deal.

Let me ask you something. If you found a terrific price on a three-story Victorian mansion with sunporches, lots of bedrooms, original woodwork and extensive grounds in Connecticut, and it hadn't been lived in since events in the 1920s, how willing would YOU be to laugh off those events?

If the movie has a flaw, and it does, it's too many surprises. Every door, window, bedroom, hallway, staircase, basement area, attic and crawl space is packed with surprises, so that it is a rare event in the house that takes place normally.

The Campbells are constantly being surprised, so often they must be tuckered out at day's end from all of that running, jumping and standing real still.

But I must not be too harsh, because surprises are what a movie like this trades in.

I also thought Elias Koteas did a great job as the priest, who was not a ghostbuster in a Roman collar but a fellow radiation patient who never looked like he was confident good would win out in the end.

(It is noteworthy that the Catholic Church does what it can to discourage exorcism, even though it could have done a lot of business in the boom times after "The Exorcist.")

So. A preposterous story, so many scares they threaten to grow monotonous, good acting and filmmaking credits, and what else?

Oh, what's with the ectoplasm? Didn't Houdini unmask that as a fraud?

And the Amazing Randi?

And what's it doing still being treated as real in THE true story?

PG-13, Two Stars

© 2009 THE EBERT CO.



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