At a time when so much has been reported about financially strapped folks facing foreclosure, there may be a receptive market for a pic that warns against moving too quickly into a house that only looks like a great bargain. But ticketbuyers will get far too few scares for their money with “The Haunting in Connecticut,” a based-on-fact ghost story that’s long on atmosphere yet short on dramatic tension. Set for a March 27 theatrical rollout, this Lionsgate release likely will fade fast from megaplexes prior to its quick reincarnation as homevid product.
Working from a script by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, helmer Peter Cornwell sets up the story with brisk efficiency and a reasonable degree of logic.
Anxious mom Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen), eager to be closer to the clinic where sickly teen son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is receiving cancer treatment, talks her husband Peter (Martin Donovan) into renting a long-deserted Victorian house in upstate Connecticut. Peter remains tied up with his job, but Sara moves into the place with Matt, her two younger children (Sophi Knight, Ty Wood) and niece Wendy (Amanda Crew).
Unfortunately, as even the rental agent admits, the house has “a bit of a history.” Specifically, the Connecticut manse (played, quite convincingly, by a house in Teulon, Manitoba) used to be a funeral home where corpses were defiled and seances were conducted on a routine basis. Sara and her family learn about this only gradually, and not before Matt is beset by visions of a charred youngster whose long-ago involvement with the seances was, apparently, involuntary.
Floorboards creak ominously, wraiths appear fleetingly and, in one especially memorable scene, a bloody mop flops loudly. Still, nothing here rises above the level of routine haunted-house bumping-in-the-night. The overall structure is haphazard, with defining characteristics — such as Peter’s barely controlled alcoholism — abruptly introduced for immediate dramatic effect, then more or less forgotten about. And while a few lines really are intentionally funny (“Now we know why the rent was so cheap!”), too many scenes trigger snickers of the derisive sort.
Perfs are serviceably sincere across the board, with Elias Koteas (cast as a clergyman who tries to help the Campbell clan) a standout for his intense underplaying. Special effects are first-rate, but scenes in which ectoplasms spurt from the mouths of supporting players probably will produce more giggles than gasps.