“So, Hallmark has made a horror movie…”
These were my thoughts while I was watching The Haunting in Connecticut, a horror movie with one of the loggiest titles ever. I guess it exists because it wants to distance itself from the 2002 tv movie A Haunting in Connecticut (it’s not a haunting, it’s the haunting) which treated the same subject, but it does feel as if The Haunting has started a franchise, much like Debbie. Welcome to a brand new chapter in the series, this time The Haunting does Connecticut.
I wish that was the only thing I could complain about, but so much about this film is wrong it’s a miracle my final score will be 3.5/10. I guess the proximity of talent saved it from being a complete calamity.
Oddly enough, this brings us to another problem this film – along with many other recent movies – has. Who decided the titles should only appear at the end of movies these days? As David Cronenberg once pointed out, credits help you during the transition from the real world (you entering the cinema) to the fictional world of the film. These days movies just start with scene 1, very likely because Hollywood nitwits have decided the average teenager might get bored having to read letters on a screen. Now, it may be true that these days annoying people tend to finish their conversation when the lights go out and that often those people will talk during the credits or the silent bits before the first dialogue is uttered, but slashing the credits doesn’t help. In fact, they now talk over the first bits. You see, finishing their dialogue is more important than the beginning of the movie, don’tyouknow?
Unfortunately, I had to share my vision of The Haunting in Connecticut with a couple of young Dutch kids. The Dutch – there’s nothing wrong with a generalisation if it’s true – are a nation of loudmouths who will talk through anything they’re watching, be it a movie or a concert. But it gets better… one of the three was a girl who didn’t want to watch the movie and loudly complained that she was subjected to the nastiness of the film. Shortly after the grittiest scene in the film, the Dutch kids left the theatre (and hopefully the country).
That this girl was scared had a good reason: the film may pretend to be scary, until you realise how the effects work. Every time something scary is going to happen the background noises are blown up to ludicrous levels. Let me rephrase that, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT IS A LOUD MOVIE BECAUSE IT THINKS IT WILL SCARE YOU WITH SUDDEN LOUD NOISES. WHICH DOES SCARE PEOPLE, UNTIL THEY’RE GETTING IRRITATED BY THOSE LOUD NOISES, MUCH LIKE I’M HOPING YOU ARE GETTING IRRITATED BY MY USE OF CAPITALS IN THIS OVERLONG SENTENCE. And that’s how it’s done. An effect that doesn’t really work to the film’s credit.
Before the film begins, it informs you it was based on real events. A family relocates to Connecticut because the long drive home from the hospital is having a bad effect on the sick son Kyle (in the film the word ‘cancer’ is mentioned, the actual ‘Kyle’ suffered from Hodgkin’s disease). Father, mother, their three kids and niece Wendy, who helps look after the younger kids, buy the house, but only the mother knows that the house has a history. She didn’t tell the others because the location is close to the hospital, ghostly appearances or not. Pretty soon, scary things start happening, but it isn’t until Kyle meets a Romanian priest (played by Elias Koteas) in the hospital things speed up. Kyle and Wendy find a box filled with something they can’t identify (my guess was dried eyelids because it looked like dried eyelids, but apparently the film felt it needed an extra mystery so it does take a couple of minutes before the priest identifies the eyelid-like things as eyelids). The priest realises something is fishy in the house, but he’s thrown out of the house by the mother. Only so he can return later in the film in an arrival scene that looks extraordinarily like The Exorcist. Mainly because he’s there to exorcise the evil ghost from the house. But will he be successful…?
So why my Hallmark reference? Well, because the film pays equal attention to the horror as to the human drama of the family. It’s not as if it’s enough that their oldest kid has cancer… no, the film also needs to attract attention to the father’s former drinking problem. A problem which – it’s like Hallmark or it’s not – of course will make a welcome return later in the film.
The father is played by Martin Donovan and as an avid Hal Hartley fan I’m always pleased to see him appear, but he doesn’t get star billing. Weirdly enough, despite the entire movie being around Kyle’s psychic connection to the dead Kyle Gallner (the psychotic Beaver in Veronica Mars) doesn’t get his name mentioned before the title of the film. The only one billed pre-title is Virginia Madsen, who plays the mother. Ah, the good old Hollywood tactic of naming the biggest star first, whether they’re the protagonist or not.
By the way, it looks as if the credits were intended to be at the beginning of the film and the decision to move them to the end of the film was made quite late. Anyway, they seem mismatched at the end and it’s only further proof the film has a rushed and botched look.
This film is director Peter Cornwell‘s debut. He only made one animated short before and it’s sneaked into the film (Kyle watches it in the hospital). I’m not sure whether his inexperience are the cause of the film’s shortcomings. Some of the scary scenes are quite good and effective , though. The walking dead have texts written on their body (Kaidan, anyone?) and some words make a good reference to Dario Argento (you see some titles of his films). It shows a love for the genre which doesn’t manage to translate itself into a lovable film. In fact, if the film hadn’t been able to get hold of talents like Madsen, Donovan and Koteas, it really would’ve been an awful experience. Likewise, if the film hadn’t just ‘based’ itself on true events (wherein ‘based’ stands for “quickly grab some parts of what really happened and turn it into a Hallmark horror movie”) it could also been more effective.
Now, the talent keeps it from being a waste of time, but actually that’s what it is.