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Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)

Oh dear, where to begin? "Based on true events" is always a warning sign on ghost films because immediately that tells you it's actually based on a pack of delusions or deliberate lies.

Even with the supporting documentaries, with commentary from some of the people involved in the "real events", it's hard to judge which is the basis of The Haunting In Connecticut.

It doesn't help that the film version differs so dramatically from the documentary accounts, which are full of enough wild claims and eccentric characters (e.g. supposed ghosthunters and psychics), that - except for the setting (a former funeral home), some of the character names and the fact that the central character was ungoing treatment for cancer - the film bears little relation to the alleged "true story" from the off.

The movie version of the story concerns a family whose eldest son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), is undergoing experimental cancer treatment and so his parents decide to rent a house closer to the hospital in Connecticut so they don't have to make the long drive to and from the house they own.

Mother Sara (Virginia Madsen) finds a nice looking - and affordable - Colonial house to rent, which she is informed used to be a funeral parlour.

They move in and Matt claims the basement for his bedroom.

Meanwhile husband Peter (Martin Donovan - how the mighty have fallen since his days in the sublime films of Hal Hartley) brings over the younger children (a boy and a girl), but he can only stay at weekends as he has to work back near their original home.

Peter is an annoying character, adding little to the story even with his one drunken tantrum of smashing all the lightbulbs to keep the electricity bills down (or something), and Donovan phones in his performance.

Anyway, Matt very quickly starts seeing things and instead of confiding in the medical establishment (as it is obviously a side effect of his treatment), he instead talks to a priest, Popescu (Elias Koteas), undergoing the same treatment and clearly just as deluded, who just encourages Matt's hallucinations with wild talk about the "dead being all around" and sundry other hackneyed clichés.

Sara is shown to be highly religious as well, which manifests itself in strange ways such as when the electrical items in the house start behaving funny, instead of calling an electrician, she calls the Rev Popescu.

That's just one of the major problems with The Haunting In Connecticut: no one behaves in a rational way. Matt is dosed up with powerful drugs and being subjected to chemotherapy, so obviously everything he sees must be real - it can't be his mind playing tricks on him.

When I was in hospital, just after I'd had my aneurysm and emergency surgery I had very vivid and terrifying hallucinations, which for weeks afterwards I was convinced were real until, eventually, I calmed down and let rationality back into my brain.

Saying that The Haunting In Connecticut is based "on true events" doesn't make it more frightening, just more aggravating. I'd be more willing to believe The Grudge was real because it wasn't set in a house so obviously "spooky" and likely to scare the crap out of any small children living there.

The Haunting In Connecticut presents us with an elder sibling prone to hallucinations, two impressionable younger children, a mother who is resorting to prayer to try and save her sick son and a drunk father; a pair of parents both desperately in need of money to finance expensive medical treatment and the upkeep of two homes. And we're expected to believe what they tell us?

At least the recent remake of The Amityville Horror (which covers the same haunted house territory) had the good sense to throw caution to the wind and just go totally over the top, whereas this film takes itself too seriously.

It wants to be The Exorcist or, maybe, The Omen, but can't decide how 'real' to try and make its story and just ends up a confusing mess.

I might have been more sympathetic to it had it either stuck closer to the story we were told in the two-part documentary, The Fear Is Real, or just abandoned that set-up entirely and presented us with a straight forward horror story about a normal family moving into an old funeral parlour.

There is very little originality in the film - except, possibly, in the grotesque necromancy sub-plot tied into the operations of the undertaker (this is entirely a fabrication of the film makers and is only fleetingly touched on in the documentary with a vague, unsubstantiated, claim from a paranormal investigator about a spirit that told him of 'violations' or some such guff).

But even that has roots that can be traced back to the writings of HP Lovecraft (The Dreams In The Witch House and others).

Although the documentary is clearly biased towards those claiming the story is true (it makes better business sense that way; why do you think so many pubs are supposedly haunted?), some kudos at least for allowing the sceptics - neighbours, schoolfriends and the local police - to point out that no one ever experienced, or saw, anything except for the one family.

The veracity of the claims is further underlined by the total lack of physical evidence (even a blurry photo would have been nice!) or corroborating testimonies from independent witnesses, anyone who didn't have a vested interest in trying to make out this was all real.

I was hoping to find a film as good as The Grudge on this disc, but instead found a typical Hollywood mess suffering a severe identity crisis and eventually suffocating under its own mass of bullshit ectoplasm.

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