Friday, March 27, 2009

Talk about a bad piece of real estate

Right out of the box, "The Haunting in Connecticut" tells us that what we're about to see is based on a true story. This information may be meant to raise the chill factor, causing us to wonder whether the ensuing parade of bumps, thumps and jolts might actually happen to us. Maybe, but on screen, I wish it all could have happened in more interesting fashion.

Set in Connecticut in 1987, "Haunting" tells the story of a family that moves into a house full of raging spirits. The movie tries to load up on shocks, gore and creepy atmosphere, but skimps on just about everything else. That matters because horror seems a whole lot more effective when filmmakers take the time to build a reality that goes beyond rudimentary script mechanics; i.e., when they do more than introduce a problem before turning up the voltage, often with bursts of noise that substitute for more original kinds of scare tactics. We get zapped, but this darkly hued movie forgets that dark feels a whole darker when there's a little light to provide contrast.

The story begins when a harried mother (Virginia Madsen) presses her husband (Martin Donovan) to rent a second house away from their hometown. She wants to be closer to the hospital where one of her sons (Kyle Gallner) is receiving experimental therapy for a severe form of cancer. The rental is affordable because, as the landlord puts it, the house has some "history." Some history? Wouldn't someone ask for a little more detail? Only later do we learn that the house was once a funeral home and that the basement still contains equipment from those bygone embalming days.

The attempts at psychological depth are minimal. Dad once had a drinking problem, for example. But aside from Gallner's character, the rest of the family -- several other siblings -- receives little attention. Director Peter Cornwell tends to focus the drama on mother and son, as well as on a reverend (Elias Koteas) who shows up to conduct what appears to be a makeshift exorcism. He also explains that because Gallner's character is close to death, he's in a borderland where spirits feel free to come out and play.

Of course, these spirits "play" rough. That means a whole lot of destruction accrues to this particular rental property, raising what seems may be the movie's most compelling and very non-paranormal question: Is there a chance in hell that the Campbell family will get its damage deposit back? I'd call it a long shot.

No comments: