Based on an allegedly "true" home invasion story from the ghost-happy 1980s and with strong ties to the spiritualism craze of the 1910s and 20s, The Haunting in Connecticut is deep-fried in a double layer of supernatural hokum. It's also drenched in decades of haunted-house-movie orthodoxy, with strong echoes of Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror and dozens of other dusty old "things that go bump in the night" — those designed to make you jump at the slightest floorboard creak. First-time director Peter Cornwell milks every squeaky hinge, slamming shutter and blinking light bulb for maximum terror, and gets huge mileage from the unnerving sound of unseen wings flapping. He's an ace at creating spooky atmospherics, but a dud at patching plot holes or making goose bumps amount to anything truly memorable.
The fun starts when the middle-class Campbell family decides to rent a second home in far off Goatswood so that their sick eldest son Matthew (Kyle Gallner) won't have to commute far after his chemo treatments. His worried mom (Virginia Madsen) finds the perfect spot, a roomy, gothic-looking fixer-upper, but with a caveat: It was once a mortuary where unholy experiments were performed long ago. Swiftly fading Matt starts seeing all sorts of dead people, and they are seven shades of freaky and nonplussed spectral guests. Eventually the whole family's seeing spirits in the breakfast nook, and the puzzle starts to come together as a stack of moldy photos is found that details a lot of the unexplained phenomena. And then there's a box full of human eyelids. Gross — like, gag me with a spoon!
Most of the jolts are of the cheap, fake-out variety, but there are some truly eerie moments in the latter half, with sepia-toned flashbacks, flailing corpses and also some really silly business. The big showstopper is a séance that sees a boy spew ectoplasm — proof of spectral energy in the material world? — which, on screen, looks like he's puking up the innards of a lava lamp.
With Dan Aykroyd unavailable, the family calls in gravel-voiced Elias Koteas to bust some ghosts, and he makes a more believable exorcist than Gary Oldman did a few months back. Madsen is fine, save for some regrettable crying episodes. The brilliant Martin Donovan — as the concerned but alcoholic dad — is underused, and he floats in and out of the plot on a whim. There's also decent support from Amanda Crew as a sensible cousin, who might turn into a promising young talent, if she ever develops the ability to choose a script.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.