Thursday 30 October 2014

The Haunting In Connecticut

Haunted, Dead Or Alive

The Haunting In Connecticut
2009 USA/Canada
Directed by Peter Cornwell
Lionsgate Blu Ray Zone B 

I think I managed to miss this film when it came out at the cinema because it was released during a particularly stressful time in my life. I didn’t think much of it until a sequel was released last year... which I figured meant the first film was at the very least a competently made horror movie. So, when I came across a very cheap blu ray copy, I picked it up and gave it a go.

The Haunting In Connecticut is certainly a competent horror but it’s also nothing new. It purports to be a true life story and that particular conclusion is somewhat in question, as far as I can tell, although I understand that Ed and Lorraine Warren (who were the lead characters in The Conjuring, reviewed here) did investigate this particular case in real life. So there’s that.

The film has a few good things going for it though. The cast, for example, are all spectacular and includes three of my favourite performers Virginia Madsen (Sideways, The Prophecy) playing Sara Campbell, Martin Donovan (Trust, Simple Men, The Book Of Life) playing her husband Matt and Elias Koteas (The Prophecy, Crash) playing the clichéd, but no less effective, “true believer and keeper of wisdom” character who comes in for the last act, once everyone in the main story are finally accepting that they are under attack by troubled spirits of the dead.

The main protagonist, Sara and Matt’s son Billy (played by Ty Wood), is suffering from cancer and the family take a bargain home near a hospital where he is receiving new, untested treatment for his condition. There’s a nice moment during a montage near the start of the movie where Sara is seen driving and it’s cross cut with footage of her son getting his first dose of treatment. In this scene he has a kind of mesh mask put over his face and this is beautifully reenforced in the next shot as Sara drives past a mesh fence, which immediately echoes that.

Now then, the usual horror film rules and ways of scaring the audience apply here but the writers give themselves an extra but obvious edge by having the doctor in charge warn the boy that if he starts to hallucinate as a side effect of a new drug, the new experimental treatment for his cancer will have to stop. This, of course, blatantly allows the director to throw all kinds of scary imagery at the boy, and of course the audience, while also assuring that the character won’t be saying anything about his experiences to anyone for at least half the movie. So I guess that’s handy.

And throw it at us he does. Using all the old tricks in the book such as things glimpsed in the backgrounds of a shot, incongruous reflections in various shiny surfaces such as mirrors, windows and television screens and he even goes down the old tried and true “ghostly point of view shots” route to let the audience know that the family is... well... is not alone. Added to this are a few games of hide and seek, something often used in scary movies and you can perhaps see why I was beginning to question the formula a little as the movie wore on. Quite often I would find this kind of clichéd bag of scare tactic tricks more than a little lazy but, like a lot of horror films released lately, to be honest, the direction and editing here is just right and it’s a very competent sense of timing employed here, throughout a lot of the film. I know this is so because, although I was feeling kind of “middle of the road” during a lot of the running time, there came a point in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie where I leapt up and shouted “Ughhhh!” while waving my arms about. So I respected the director a lot more after that moment, I can tell you.

Another nice thing he does is use montage sequences, and there seem to be a lot of those kinds of sequences in this movie, in such a way that he’ll crosscut them with something else in the same character’s future or past so he’s able to speed the pace up while still giving us all the relevant shot content. So, for example, he runs a montage sequence of Billy’s sister researching the history of their new home while simultaneously crosscutting backwards and forwards to a conversation between the two of them discussing the results of that research. Now I remember I picked up on this exact same technique in another movie I recently watched and reviewed but I just can’t remember which one. However, the director manages to pull this kinda stuff off quite neatly and it definitely helps keep these exposition scenes moving along quite speedily... so that’s good.

Added to all this, of course, is a fairly typical, but no less effective because of it, example of modern horror scoring by composer Robert J. Kral. I’ve not heard of this guy before but he seems to have done a lot of scoring for TV (with things like Angel and Scooby Doo) and it seems to have proven a good training ground for the effect heavy dissonance kind of scoring which seems to have become almost a pre-requisite for these kinds of features... along with some nice melody work, as well, utilising choir at some point. Whether this works as a stand alone listen away from the movie or not I’m still not sure (I’m still letting the soundtrack album grow on me) but it’s certainly both an appropriate and effective force within the context of the movie so... no complaints here.

At the end of the day, this is a film which I suspect would have been much more effective in a darkened cinema with a load of unsettled teenagers but it’s not a bad attempt at a modern scare movie and I can see why it was popular enough to warrant a sequel. If you’re a fan of modern ghost story movies then, although it’s not the best, it’s certainly one which should still be on your radar and it’s a relatively fun watch for most of its running time. Just be careful you don’t squeal too loud.

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