By horror film standards, The Haunting in Connecticut has more than the usual share of necessary qualities. Visual and sonic effects are inventive and geared to instill an aura of dread and cheap shock tactics to remind us we’re alive. On the extra points scale, Connecticut involves a narrative ostensibly “based on a true story” and acting that exceeds the horror norm, with the under-employed Virginia Madsen showing her strengths and a young Kyle Gallner impressing as a teen haunted by the twin terrors of cancer and some unfriendly ghosts.
But never mind all those generic virtues. What makes this film so effective is its central character: the haunted house itself. In this tale about a former funeral home with a paranormal past and a brigade of apparitions that perturbs the would-be happy family’s peace of mind, the filmmakers recognize the importance of being creepy in conveying the “haunting” aspect in the house. From cinematographer Adam Swica’s first slow and ominous tracking shot, the structure becomes an irradiated container for residual angst, morbid possibilities, and general heebie jeebies. Things go bump, creak, and rumble in the night, for our viewing pleasure.
Gallner, as a teen undergoing cancer treatment, is the primary focus of the haunting, while Madsen is only briefly wary of the property manager’s warning that this is a house “with a past.” Death is tugging at our young hero, and he knows it. Looking at the stars with his father, the teen glumly notes, “Most of the stars we see are already dead.” “They look alive to me,” says Dad, to which son replies, “That’s because they haven’t gotten the news yet.”
Elias Koteas, as a cancer-ridden priest, enters the fold as a kind of exorcist hobbyist helping to unravel a complex backstory, involving a seance gone wrong decades earlier, a hidden passel of the undead, and a box of eyelids. Connecticut is an imaginative and camp-transcending twist on the horror genre. It succeeds in pushing the unique horror flick buttons within, but also boasts enough filmic artfulness-and even genuine emotional resonance and resolution-to satisfy our needs beyond the haunted house movie market.