Despite its transparently exploitative title, “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia” has nothing whatsoever to do with the 2009 supernatural thriller about spirits on the loose in the Nutmeg State. And that turns out to be a very good thing: This sequel in name only is a superior pic in almost every possible way, and deserves better than the half-hearted dump — limited theatrical exposure day-and-date with VOD release — it’s been given by Lionsgate.
Known as “The Haunting in Georgia” during production, the drama, purportedly based on a true story, deals with an Atlanta family that uncovers dark secrets and summons restless spirits after moving into a secluded home “way out in the country” near Pine Mountain.
As Lisa (Abigail Spencer) and Andy Wyrick (Chad Michael Murray) explain to their young daughter, Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind), they couldn’t resist the new quarters because “the bank gave us such a good deal.” Unfortunately, they soon learn why; the place is haunted by the ghosts of its original owner, the owner’s more recently deceased descendant, and several mid-19th-century slaves who visited the place back when it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
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Heidi is surprised — but, initially, not frightened — to find she can sense at least one of the spirits in their midst, because she shares with her mom and aunt Joyce (Katee Sackhoff) an extrasensory perceptiveness known as a “veil.” For years, Lisa has tried to deny and/or muffle this dubious gift, often with pharmaceutical assistance. But Joyce, who extends a surprise visit by moving into a decrepit trailer near the main house, thinks her niece should decide for herself whether she really wants to see dead people. Even if one of those dead people seems hellbent on driving all the living folks off the property.
First-time feature helmer Tom Elkins (who served as editor on the original “Haunting in Connecticut” and co-edited this pic) and scripter David Coggeshall do a fine job of grounding the story’s fantastical elements in something strongly resembling mundane reality. The Wyricks come across as everyday working-class types (Andy clearly is employed as a prison guard, though his occupation has no bearing on the plot) who behave as though the ability to see ghosts isn’t so much a supernatural phenomenon as a troublesome malady. To hear Lisa and Joyce talk, it’s simply something that runs in the family and requires routine preventive care.
Elkins shies away from explicit mayhem even when decaying corpses start to shuffle out of the shadows and make nuisances of themselves. Instead, the helmer generates suspense with shrewd pacing, deft emotional manipulation and efficient use of familiar tricks — jittery editing, flickering lights and unsettling sounds — common to haunted-house pics.
Spencer hits all the right notes as Lisa’s maternal instincts gradually push her beyond her fears, while Murray persuasively plays Andy as a skeptical average Joe who winds up acknowledging the supernatural threat even before his wife does. Lind recalls the “E.T.”-era Drew Barrymore with her poised and compelling performance as Heidi, and Sackhoff adds just the right touch of good-time-gal naughtiness to her vivid supporting turn as Joyce.
Cicely Tyson appears briefly but effectively in a sequence that’s key to clarifying the backstory of the haunted house and the involvement of its original owner with the Underground Railroad. At the risk of sounding crass, Lionsgate may have left some money on the table by not emphasizing the latter plot element in advertising, especially since the pic is opening during Black History Month.
Overall tech package indicates smart choices were made by production personnel while working on a limited budget. Incidentally, “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia” actually was filmed in Baton Rouge, La.