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Ghosts cure cancer! “The Haunting in Connecticut”

April 26, 2009

haunting_in_connecticut1Why does this movie exist? Seriously, I’m asking you. Why does this movie have to be here on Earth? Anyone have any ideas? Anybody? Because The Haunting in Connecticut is not only interminable at 102 minutes (I began checking my watch anxiously at the 62-minute mark), but it also rips off a half-dozen other sources, flushes away the talents of some solid actors, wrap up with an end card that’s so idiotic it borders on the offensive, and still manages to be as bland as cold microwavable burrito. I mean, how does that happen? How do you do that?

Make no mistake, this movie is your basic haunted house story in which stupid people move into a clearly fucked-up house and then hang around and try and fix it rather than, you know, running like hell. The sorta/not really twist is that the main receptor of the bad juju is the family’s eldest son who is dying of cancer. This adds a streak of melancholy to the proceedings. Well, the first fifteen minutes or so. After that it takes a back burner to the ghosts and ghoulies. Pressing matters, you know.

It’s actually that cancer that kicks the movie into action. Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing an experimental cancer treatment in Connecticut, and his mother Sara (Virginia Madsen at her most MILF-alicious) is torn apart at the long commute. These scenes are some of the best in movie, showcasing Madsen’s talent that will later be put in the service of ectoplasm-barfing ghosts. She makes palpable the pain of a mother watching her son writhe and vomit in the backset on a long ride. When she suggests to her husband (an also-underused Martin Donovan) that they rent a place closer to the clinic, despite their touch-and-go financial straits it makes perfect sense.

They find a huge, spacious place at a dream of a price (never a good sign, but really never a good sign in a horror movie). and set about moving in. Dad will remain in the unspecified town where they live, but Matt, mom, his little brother and sister (never mind their names, they’re mostly props), and his cousin Wendy (Amanda Crew, looking like a younger Jennifer Love Hewitt–did I just write that?) promptly move in. Right off the bat, weird shit starts to happen. Initially there are some low-key chills–a strange shadow here, a reflection in a TV set there—but director Peter Cornwell just can’t wait to shoot his load, so Matt starts seeing wild, over-the-top hallucinations.

So, from here we get a lot of tedious build-up to what we already knew: something’s hinky with the house. Turns out it was a mortuary back in the 1930s (ew), and this is discovered when Matt manages to open the stuck door in his basement bedroom and finds the embalming room. All pretty much still intact. Now, the movie takes place in 1987, so we’re asked to believe that in the intervening half-century either no one figured out how to open the plywood door with the big window in it, or saw fit to, you know, move any of the stuff out! Okay, so pretend one day you discover in your basement a couple of steel tables and the various freaky instruments designed to drain a human body of all its fluids and replace them with formaldehyde and sawdust. Are you really just going to leave it there?

Well, in this movie’s worldview, five decades of owners did. And then we get more tedious pseudo-scary build-up. Matt starts having bad dreams about corpses being defiled, séances, a weird young boy—pretty much your standard horror-movie stuff. Matt also starts getting paler and paler (and his lips getting redder and redder—apparently part of the haunting process is turning into MacCauley Culkin). He also turns into sort of a douche. And he occasionally sees crabs scuttling around.

Okay, so are we all on the same page here? Some bad stuff went down at the house? Overlook Hotel 101? Right. Well, the movie understands this, too, so it introduces another cancer patient, Reverend Popescu and then it strings together a couple huge blocks of exposition. First, Wendy does a little research at the local library and manages to uncover pretty much the entire story of the house. Seems the mortician who used to work there used to hold séances (like in Matt’s dreams!), and his apprentice was a gifted medium (Just like in Matt’s visions! Wait, were there still apprentices in the 1930s?). And some corpses disappeared. The Rev thinks they were probably used for necromancy.

So, long story short, the house goes batshit crazy, Matt discovers that the molested bodies were stuffed in the walls of the house (really? Fifty years and nobody noticed that, either? Really?) teams out with the spirit of the dead kid to fight off the vengeful ghosts, and together they torch the house. Mom saves him by praying real hard, and Matt horks up the spirit of the dead kid (no, really). The movie ends by telling us that everything was okay after that. Oh, and Matt’s cancer went away (WTF?!?)

My biggest problem with THiCT isn’t simply that it rips off a solid half-dozen other movies, but that it makes no effort to integrate them into a larger narrative. It’s as if Cornwell was saying, “Okay, this is going to be just like The Amityville Horror. Oooo! And this is totally going to be The Shining! And for a while Matt’s gonna be all scary like in Amityville Horror 2…” And he also throws in a corpse-writing scene that manages to rip-off both Event Horizon and a couple episodes of the new Doctor Who series.Amid the rip-offs the domestic scenes of the family dealing with Matt’s cancer surface every so often like the Loch Ness monster, then slip beneath the waves again. There is some lip-service paid the domestic tension Matt’s cancer has caused—financial difficulties, Dad’s drinking problem—but they’re so underdeveloped, they feel like a waste of time. Probably most offensive is the notion that Matt’s cancer was somehow caused/affected by the supernatural proceedings (despite establishing that it easily predates the move into the house). It seems both cheap and exploitative to tack on a completely nonsensical “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Also, the movie is conspicuously called The Haunting in Connecticut. And according to the title cards is “Based on the true story.” Right. So there was only one haunting ever in Connecticut. Man, that place must be boring.

TEMPORAL ANOMOLY OF THE WEEK: For a movie set in 1987 there was a severe shortage of stonewashed denim, big hair, and shoulder pads. What’s the point of setting a movie in 1987 if you’re not going to import the hairstyles (though Wendy sports a Flashdance-style cut-up sweatshirt).

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