Monday, March 30, 2009

Movie Review: A Haunting in Connecticut

A Haunting in Connecticut might be a case where knowing less is more. I can't help but wonder if those people who are interested in the paranormal and familiar with the cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren might be taken out of the movie a bit as they notice the differences from the real case. Perhaps not. I can only judge from my own experience. I came to this movie only having a superficial knowledge of the real case, but knowledge enough to know that it does stretch the "based on a true story" concept.

But not being tied to a preconceived notion, the movie worked for me. I jumped. I squealed. I cried. I was moved. I can't ask for much more out of a movie than to be drawn into the experience.

The story hinges around the Campbell family which has a child fighting against cancer and appears to be nearing the end of his battle. The family is pretty much at their wits end in terms of financial stress, emotional stress, and the burden of long drives to get treatment for the son, Matt, who is played with heartbreaking depth by Kyle Gallner.

The family in an effort to ease the stress for all decides to rent a house closer to where Matt's treatments take place. The mother, Sara (played by the always excellent Virgina Madsen), makes an executive decision on renting a home that seems perfect for the family despite its history as a mortuary.

Though some may feel it slows the movie's pacing, I felt the scenes of family stress were very effective. They drew me in and made me care about this family which is facing the devastation of losing a child. Virgina Madsen is a fierce, protective, loving mother in this film. When she breaks down, the viewer can't help but sympathize.

Once the family is firmly established in their new residence, the family is subjected to various phenomena of haunting. Dark figures appear beside them. Things are rearranged. Electric light shows take place. The most affected by this is Matt. It is reasoned by Reverend Popescu, played by the charismatic Elias Koteas, that perhaps Matt's enhanced experience is due to his closeness to death. Credit must be given to Koteas who steals every scene he is in. His work here is perfection.

The film takes you into the past of the home and its frightening history. Director Peter Cornwell does a very deft job of tweaking color to give a sense of atmosphere and brilliantly edits between the modern day events and the past. It was very well done and could have been less effective in unskilled hands. The entities that are in the house have an original, eerie look. They are intimidating and frightening. Definitely something that would make you scream if you opened your eyes from a deep sleep to find one standing beside you.

I should comment too on the house. The art and set design give the place a very creepy feel. Like Amityville Horror, the movie wouldn't work if the house didn't work.

Yes,this film has the usual expected scary sound cues and flashes of specters that make up the "cheap thrills" of any horror movie. Yes, it has dread and gore enough to satisfy most who desire that. But what makes this movie go beyond a token horror film is the depth, heart, and journey of the characters.

Gallner's performance defines the movie for me. He really carries the weight of the illness and the haunting manifestations in his posture, his expressions, his physical reactions to things. We watch him break further and further down, until he finds the answer to the house's mystery and becomes empowered. His journey is ours.

The ending of movie honestly did present some difficulties for me. It seemed that there may have been some editing that left out key information. The soundtrack at the end took me out of the movie a bit due to too much melodrama. But praise for and satisfaction in this movie definitely overwhelmed any minor disappointments. A high recommend for fans of the paranormal and horror, and one I look forward to seeing again.

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