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.

The Haunting in Connecticut

  • Production: A Lionsgate release, presented with Gold Circle Films, of an Integrated Films production. Produced by Paul Brooks, Andrew Trapani, Daniel Farrands, Wendy Rhoads. Executive producers, Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt, Steve Whitney. Co-producers, Brad Kessell, Jeff Levine, Phyllis Lang. Directed by Peter Cornwell. Screenplay, Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Adam Swica; editor, Tom Elkins; music, Robert J. Kral; production designer, Alicia Keywan; art director, Edward Bonutto; set decorators, Steve Shewchuk, Craig Sandells; costume designer, Meg McMillan; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), James Kusan; visual effects supervisor, Erik Nordby; visual effects, Technicolor Creative Services Vancouver; special effects coordinator, Tim Storvick; prosthetics and character effects, MastersFX, designed and supervised by Todd Masters, Dan Rebert; associate producer, Jonathan Shore; assistant director, Richard O'Brien-Moran; casting, Eyde Belasco, Jim Heber. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Fantastic Fest at Midnight), Austin, March 17, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 92 MIN.
  • With: Sara Campbell - Virginia Madsen Matt Campbell - Kyle Gallner Reverend Popescu - Elias Koteas Wendy - Amanda Crew Peter Campbell - Martin Donovan Mary - Sophi Knight Billy Campbell - Ty Wood Jonah - Erik Berg