61 Days of Halloween- The Haunting in Connecticut

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It happens rarely but every once in a while a film will come along that not only has a great trailer, but lives up to the potential that its trailer promises. Such is the case of The Haunting in Connecticut, which is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a long time. It may seem strange to begin the analysis of a film with its trailer; however, films more so than any other art form are inexorably linked to their marketing. Before the work itself can be discussed, a few more pieces of marketing must be quickly touched upon. First, the film’s MPAA rating, PG-13, which is generally the kiss of death in the horror genre. Just knowing a horror movie is rated PG-13 has deterred me from viewing the film. Fear not – blood and gore wouldn’t make this film better, it flat out works brilliantly without need for the violence, vulgarity, gore and gratuitous sexual content we come to expect from lesser works in the genre. Second, the film is “based on a true story.” If you know anything of that true story, as I do, please don’t expect a documentary, or even a faithful re-telling based on fact. I always take the assertion “based on a true story” with a grain of salt. The truths in this film are the circumstances surrounding the family’s life, their rental of a house that formerly served as a funeral home, and some of their supernatural experiences. However, the true story doesn’t allow for a tidy ending or a very linear plot, so liberties have been taken. Many things have been embellished or created, and all brilliantly executed.

Haunting is a film that excels on many levels. Most importantly it never forgets that drama is the foundation of all other genres and thus you must build characters and make the audience care about their problems. Not that these are the most complex or dynamic characters ever created, but they are developed enough such that we can engage and have an interest in their plight.

Another manner in which Haunting excels is its utilization of all the techniques at its disposal to create a chilling tale. Many weaker efforts in the genre only achieve scares with overly-loud effects. The entire soundtrack of Haunting is subtle and beautifully mixed allowing you to hear voices, footsteps, and rustling in parts of the house unseen. The sound levels are great. Sometimes you could barely hear what was going on, making your anxiety greater. The score is solid and highlights the fright. The editing not only allows for great jolts but also tells the story in a fascinating way cutting from the present to the past, seen and unseen, using L-Cuts (dialogue continuing from scene which is no longer being shown) to move the story along and quick cuts to black. There was a wonderful sense of symmetry, as several situations repeat themselves with different results, like the game of hide and seek for example.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is its relentlessness. It hardly if ever seeks to cut the tension but seeks to keep the baseline pretty high, leaving the audience anticipating the next jolt. And the jolts are fantastic. One was done with the clever use of misdirection. There appears to be a bird under the bed that we can’t see and as it is to be revealed the jolt comes from elsewhere, and it is purely visual. The film is very visual and uses its dialogue wisely.

The performances are spot on. Elias Koteas has never been better. It’s also Virginia Madsen’s best turn in the genre. I can’t say that Madsen’s performance in Candyman excels over Haunting because I understood this character better. Kyle Gallner is cast properly and plays his character perfectly.

I personally judge each movie on its own merit and take it for what it is, for example I will never say “Well, this was no Casablanca or Citizen Kane so I can’t give it such and such a grade” – that’s bunk. The Haunting in Connecticut makes no pretensions about what it is, and does its job incredibly well. It was the most transfixing horror movie experience from the beginning to end that I’ve had since The Exorcist re-release in 2000 so having said that I give The Haunting in Connecticut a score of 10/10.