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MOVIE REVIEW

The Haunting in Connecticut

'Haunting' is up to the same old scary tricks

Virginia Madsen stars in ''The Haunting in Connecticut.'' Virginia Madsen stars in ''The Haunting in Connecticut.'' (Allen fraser)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 27, 2009
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It's every parent's worst nightmare - a child with cancer - a story that's grist for lousy horror moviemaking. "The Haunting in Connecticut" is another movie based on a supposedly true paranormal occurrence - perhaps you haven't entirely forgotten 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" or "An American Haunting" from 2006.

This time, the object of evil is a teenager named Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner). His parents, played by Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan, have rented a manse close to the hospital where Matt receives his free experimental cancer treatments, and moved with their two younger kids and a teenage niece pert enough for an absurd last-minute shower sequence. The house, as it happens, was once a mortuary, which allows you to do the math on the undeadness afoot.

There is still a great horror movie about foreclosure to be made. In the meantime, this movie plays games. (How many rounds of hide-and-seek should an audience tolerate?)

"The Haunting in Connecticut" adds family melodrama to its horror clichés. According to Mom, Dad used to be a "liar and a drunk," and staying truthful and sober proves a challenge. He shows up one night in a functional drunken rage. He unscrews and destroys all the light bulbs himself, robbing some crew member of a perfectly good union job. Dad doesn't just fall off the wagon. He parachutes. Madsen is as elegant as ever.

There's no trace of her rougher, rawer "Candyman" days, even through, as a silly horror thrillers go, that movie had lot more to recommend.

The possibility exists that the director Peter Cornwell and the credited screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe did research on the actual case, which transpired in the mid-1980s (and remains dubious in the opinion of some). It seems more plausible that they just binged on every nominal scary movie made in the last 10 years. Their film uses all the same tricks - blurry images in mirrors and windows, deafening sound design, erratic editing that could face charges for assault and battery. An ax head flies through a door as one famously did in "The Shining."

Eventually, Elias Koteas arrives as a holy man in a spiffy hat, and the filmmakers try to frame him with as much iconic authority as Max von Sydow in "The Exorcist." Nice try. This isn't moviemaking. It's charades.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT Directed by: Peter Cornwell

Written by: Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe

Starring: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, and Elias Koteas

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 100 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (Some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images)

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