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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
One of the worst things that can happen to a parent is to have their child come down with cancer. And Sarah Campbell (Virginia Madsen: CANDYMAN, THE PROPHECY, THE HAUNTING, THE NUMBER 23) is going through that with her son Matt (Kyle Gallner: RED EYE, RED), who is going through radiation treatment and suffering the pain that accompanies both the cancer and the treatment. It's a very long drive to and from the treatment center and it gets to the point where Sarah can no longer stand to put Matt through it anymore. So she goes in search of a house closer to the hospital. Of course, Sarah and her husband Peter (Martin Donovan: INSOMNIA, THE VISITATION, Masters of Horror: RIGHT TO DIE, THE DEAD ZONE [TV], WIND CHILL, THE ALPHABET KILLER, GHOST WHISPERER [TV]) aren't wealthy. The cancer treatments alone are breaking them and the only way to buy a new house is to drain their savings and have Peter take a second job. But what has to be done, has to be done.
Sarah soon finds a house, very cheap, and doesn't like it. Its perfectly situated, the price is right, but there's just something about it that feels... wrong.
After the very next long drive from a radiation treatment, with Matt shivering in agony and puking out of the window, Sarah puts her reservations aside and signs for the house without even consulting Peter. It's not that Peter wouldn't have agreed, but Sarah made the huge decision without him, one that he'll be responsible for covering, and this drives a wedge in the fragile trust between the two of them, that they are trying to re-establish with each other.
Soon everyone is moved out of the family home to the new house except for Peter. Peter has to stay behind to run his business. He couldn't leave if he wanted to because someone has to pay for the new and old house. So Peter has to live alone without his family and Sarah is making decisions on how to spend the money that he has to earn.
Things aren't going so well for Sarah either. Something just isn't right about the house. Matt decides to use the basement as his bedroom. Sarah doesn't approve, but with Matt's poor health, she isn't going to fight him over it either. In addition to Sarah and Matt, the two children, Billy (Ty Wood: MANEATER) and Mary (Sophie Knight: WALLED IN), and their cousin Wendy (Amanda Crew: FINAL DESTINATION 3), are occupying the new quarters. Things may or may not be happening to them. I don't know. Their characters, as written, are little more than stick figure ciphers.
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT focuses on five people:
Sarah: Overwhelmed by her horror at witnessing her oldest child die before her eyes, she is confused as to what is the best course of action. She can't seem to make a decision without an immediate emergency being thrust upon her.
Matt: Straddles the line between life and death. He is dying, and the radiation treatments are naturally killing his body along with the cancer.
It's a race to see if he is healthy enough to survive the medicine. Its because of his situation that he is more alert to what supernatural things occupy the house.
Peter: Went through an alcohol problem before he sobered up and cleaned up his life. He feels the loss for his son every bit as much as Sarah does. The difference is, Sarah strips him of his family to build a nest around herself, keeping Peter distant. Punished for loving a family he can't touch, he must suffer alone. He spends his days and nights working. What little free time he has he spends driving for hours to spend a few precious minutes with his family before he has to return. What small free time he has after that leaves him reconsidering the bottle.
Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas: CYBORG 2, THE PROPHECY, FALLEN, APT PUPIL, LOST SOULS, SKINWALKERS, PRISONER): he lost his wife to cancer, and now he is losing his own life. Having met and spoke with Matt at the hospital, he knows exactly what is going on. He too can see the things that Matt sees. Kudos for the quiet scene stealing performance of Koteas.
Jonah (Erik J. Berg): He died nearly a century before, but still exists within the house. That's because the house has a secret deeper and darker than anyone alive knows.
Matt has nightmares where he sees Jonah as the head of some séance. Something is frightening Jonah even while everyone else at the table looks on in eager anticipation. Then Jonah pukes up a bedsheet (see movie poster). I know that doesn't seem like much. But it's an awful lot of bedsheet! Let's see YOU do it! It's brown, it floats, and then it does something else which is even more awful than throwing up a bedsheet with brown stains on it!
There were many reasons to give this movie 5 Shriek Girls. There were more than 5 times that most of the audience screamed out loud, which is always high praise for a Horror Thriller movie. The fact that the movie could do this without cheap prank scares like jumping cats and crashing stings of music and other manner of cliches, is all good.
Unfortunately the characters of Billy, Mary, and Wendy take up a lot of time in this movie and yet they are never developed. At 102 minutes, the movie could have done it. There was ample time to flesh out these characters, but they are only there to be repeatedly scared or put in danger. They are a Greek chorus meant to shriek, scream, and cower, but they don't actually LIVE within the context of the movie.
I didn't make this movie so I have no idea if this otherwise well written film by Adam Simon (BRAIN DEAD, CARNOSAUR, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, BONES) and Tim Metcalfe (FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, KALIFORNIA, BONES) is the fault of the writers. That past track record isn't inspiring though.
Director Peter Cornwell amply showed his ability to direct Horror Thriller when, as an animator, he made the short, Ward 13. And considering that this is his first feature film, he pulls it off very well.
Producer Paul Brooks (PROTEUS, DARKLANDS, WHITE NOISE, SLITHER, WHISPER) has a long history as a movie producer but nearly all of his movies suffer from the same thing THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT suffers from: poorly fleshed out characters.
Producer Daniel Farrands makes his debut as a full fledged Producer. In times past he was always co-, and executive, but never got the full title. He did write TOOTH FAIRY and the screenplay for Jack Ketchum's THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.
Other producers include Wendy Rhoads and Andrew Trapani, neither of whom have any real Horror Thriller movie making experience. But as producers they all have a say in the U.S. on what makes it to the screen.
So I don't know. I know that if you watch THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT you will have a shrieking good time! Its heart is in the right place and the scares are all over the place. There's just not the kind of depth here that makes for great movie conversation afterwards.
Three Shriek Girls.
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