Saturday, March 28, 2009

This Haunting Came As A Surprise

At first glance, The Haunting in Connecticut seems to have all the fixings to make it just another horror film wading in the swampy waters of modern mainstream horror filmmaking. A house haunted by ghosts, based on a “true” story, hallucinatory freak-outs, an unknown director and a PG-13 rating. In most cases, this combination would prove deadly for the film at hand. There was something a bit different about this haunting though.

The Haunting in Connecticut is somewhat based on the supposed true story of the home of Al and Carmen Snedeker in Southington, Conn. which was originally featured in the book In A Dark Place. The film follows a family that relocates to the supernatural house closer to the hospital cancer-stricken son Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) needs to receive treatment from.

Let’s set a few things straight here. Haunting doesn’t do too much to break ground or separate itself from the rest of its genre-related counterparts. The film is a rather conventional take on the concept of haunted houses. That said, it isn’t a bad take on the horror subgenre.

Haunting also isn’t scary. At least in the typical meaning of scary in modern horror films, it isn’t. The “jump-out” scare tactics the film employs, which have been a major reason horror films have taken the fall they have the last 10 years (filmmakers forgo atmosphere and other key qualities for the eerie soundtrack aided by the loud sound and quick pan of the camera), just don’t work. Most of the first half of the film is comprised of these types of moments, such as having a shadowy figure appear and disappear or the long stare into the mirror that turns into a quick and expected attempt to make the viewer jump.

The good thing for Haunting is that the film is scary in the way I feel horror films need to be. I might be out of the ordinary in saying this, but the only way a horror film needs to scare is in concept of what is happening to the film’s characters. There’s a reason why zombie films became such a huge genre, and it isn’t because they constantly provide the viewer with loud, spine-tingling sounds. The thought of the world becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland of people you once knew coming back from the dead to attack you is terrifying. The same goes if you try to put yourself in the shoes of anyone in the house, especially those of Matt, a young man reeling with pain whose nearing death due to cancer is being expedited by supernatural events within the house.

Where the film truly excels is in its attempt to stay grounded as a realistic horror film rather than something far too phantasmal. Sure, a lot of this true story probably didn’t happen and some of it probably was stretched, but since a lot of it deals with the visions of Matt, it can all be questioned. Writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, along with director Peter Cornwell, used the cancer patient subplot to the upmost advantage by giving emotion to the film and the characters. Granted, this is nothing too deep, but it adds something most films of this kind just don’t have.

The best performance was from the experienced Elias Koteas, who gave a sympathy-inducing performance as Reverend Popescu, a cancer patient Matt meets and seeks help of in attempt to rid the house of its evil spirits. The rest of the cast, including Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner, is good enough for their roles and the type of film. None of it is close to being great, but it’s all far from terrible.

Once the film reaches its final third, there’s a lot to love. The film begins a bit slow, feeling the effects of the failure of the conventional modern horror scare tactics I mentioned earlier. Once the supernatural events spread from Matt to the entire house and family, things pick up greatly. There is some legitimately cool and atmospheric imaging towards the end of the film that has been showcased on the film’s movie poster. This includes the impressive ectoplasm from the bodies of mediums scene.

As far as the near oxymoron of PG-13 horror films go, this is a valiant and surprising effort. A lot of high-brow critics have already laid the smackdown on the film and I’m sure that trend will only continue. It might be a tad cynical to say, but I also expect a lot of the general public to write it off as a stupid, weird and unimpressive film.

It comes to a point where you have to realize what to expect from a film. While this film surely draws from the big guns of the haunted house genre such as The Amityville Horror, it’s still an enjoyable and interesting effort that came as a huge surprise to me. Don’t go in expecting a truly terrifying film and don’t go in expecting the next classic. Heck, don’t even expect something better than simply good. This is nothing more than a solid way to kill a Friday night.

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