Review: The Haunting in Connecticut is only as good as it needs to be

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The Haunting in Connecticut is exactly as good as it needs to be to satisfy people who like haunted-house movies or ghost stories. Featuring almost without exception all of the visual hallmarks that make movie "things that go bump in the night" successfully scary, director Peter Cornwell's feature directorial debut is a cheaply effective horror film that possesses about as much lasting resonance as a shadow that disappears when you turn the lights on.

Virginia Madsen (The Number 23) plays Sara Campbell, a fiercely determined mother whose oldest son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), is undergoing radiation therapy for cancer. Needing a place to stay that's near the hospital, Sara finds a place for her family that's cheap and close, but it's creepy and was a mortuary many years ago.

After Matt moves down into the basement of the house, he begins to have strange visions, including images of a burned man looming over him. Before long, the Campbell family finds itself at the mercy of the house's twisted history, and Matt soon realizes that he may be the only person who can protect them—albeit potentially at the cost of his own life.

Regardless of its "based on the true story" billing, The Haunting in Connecticut feels exactly like every other haunted-house movie ever made, from The Haunting to The Amityville Horror and so on, which means that it doesn't matter how accurate or authentic it supposedly is.

The movie subjects the Campbells to a series of funhouse horrors that are superficially thrilling but fail completely to build to any real or truly terrifying payoff, including slamming doors, moving shadows and light switches that work only occasionally. The fact that the "monster" in the film is actually more complicated and interesting than the audience expects is a nice change of pace, but the rest of the film is so machinelike in its storytelling that the climactic revelations don't add up to much.

Virginia Madsen gets a lot fewer roles that are worthy of her talent than she deserves, but she visibly gives each of them her all, and Sara Campbell is no different; in almost every scene she's praying, fretting or generally struggling nobly to deal with her son's illness. Gallner, on the other hand, comes from the Robert Pattinson school of dreamy-eyed glowering, and mostly shivers his way through the film without offering much personality.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that the majority of the characters feel as if they exist in order to create conflict but possess no other discernible qualities; screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe successfully engineer a functional, forward-moving story, but they never invest it with enough personality or, God forbid, uniqueness to give the film any real intensity.

Overall, however, Cornwell's film is a spectacularly average, middle-of-the-road horror story that does its job, no more and no less, which probably qualifies as damning it with faint praise. But I don't mean to, and there's really no particular reason to discourage folks from seeing it, especially since it's exactly the kind of experience that is unlikely to haunt you one second after you've had it. Ultimately, if you have any appetite at all for ghost stories, or just want a movie scary enough to make your girlfriend leap into your lap during your next date, The Haunting in Connecticut is probably for you.