The Haunting in Connecticut
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Matt Campbell must wonder whether someone hung a "Come on in, unwanted interlopers!" sign around his neck when he was born.
First, the teen contracts cancer—as insidious and unwanted an interloper as there ever was. But when Matt's family moves to an old, mysteriously cheap house in Connecticut so Matt can be closer to his doctors, it seems as if something else wants to take residence in his body, too. And frankly, this unwanted guest is even more disturbing.
Oh, sure, maybe there were things he could've done to keep this entity at bay. Maybe he could've slept in a real bedroom, for instance, rather than in the house's dark, dank basement—located beside a mysteriously locked room. And maybe when, one morning, he finds himself in that other room—a room filled with chemicals and metal stretchers and sharp, unfriendly instruments—he could've mentioned that he wasn't particularly comfortable with it.
And maybe, just maybe, he should've told somebody about the corpses.
Turns out this charming little mansion was once a funeral home, and you know what they say: Home is where the haunt is. Seems a legion of restless undead have made the place their own Hades hacienda, and they lurch around the place sporting lidless eyes and gray skin carved with unholy runes. Matt's the only guy who reliably sees them—not necessarily a good thing since one of them has taken a particular shine to him, hovering over his bed at night and invading his body during mealtime prayers. Now that can't be good for the digestion.
Matt's worried that, if he tells anyone about this stuff, they'll take him off an experimental cancer treatment—his only real hope for survival. So he keeps it all to himself. And in so doing he grows progressively more morose, pale and ... frightening.
"Attitude?" Matt's father gasps when Matt's doctor says that attitude is a critical part of the healing process. "His own family is afraid of him."
[Note: The following sections include spoilers.]
Matt, as put-upon as he must feel at times, has a fairly decent support structure around him. Sara, his mom, will do anything for her son. She's the one who makes the eight-hour drive to Matt's doctors while the family's living in New York. When the long drive gets too hard for Matt, she's the one who decides to rent the Connecticut house: She tells her husband, Peter, that she couldn't watch Matt suffer in the car for one mile more. Moreover, she refuses to even consider the possibility that Matt might die—perhaps a bit obtuse on her part, but her stubborn insistence that Matt live helps Matt do just that.
Matt meets Pastor Popescu in the cancer ward. The good reverend also has cancer, and he shares Matt's ability to see the dead—an ability, he says, that comes when folks spend so much time at death's door. He becomes the first person Matt confides in, and Popescu risks his well-being to help the Campbell family.
Shambling corpses, haunted houses, séances ... yeah, you might say there's a bit of spirituality here. And it should be noted that there's some overt Christian themes at work, too.
Moviegoers barely have a chance to take their first sip of soda before Sara rhetorically asks, "Why do bad things happen to good people? That's the real question, right?" And with that, the audience barrels into the movie's first real scene, where Sara's driving back from a treatment with Matt in the backseat, a crucifix hanging from the rearview mirror. "Please God, don't make him suffer," she prays. And she tells Matt that she's letting God know how precious he is to her. The Campbells pray beside their beds at night and hold hands during mealtime grace.
Unfortunately, holding hands acts as a catalyst for Matt, sending him into some sort of trance where he becomes (in some hard-to-define manner) a boy named Jonah—a supernaturally gifted medium from the past who, through some curious innate ability, is able to channel the spirits of the dead.
We learn that Jonah's boss, a mortician named Ramsey Aickman, was trying to amplify Jonah's natural talents through the use of necromancy. Instead of burying the folks who came through the funeral home, he'd keep the corpses, carve elaborate spells into their skins and clip off their eyelids. Though we're told that necromancy is the foulest form of magic around, it apparently worked—so much so that during one séance a stream of ectoplasm (think supernatural goo) blossomed out of poor Jonah's mouth and caused much devastation. (More on that later.)
Popescu puts a New-Agey twist on a Christian concept, talking about how "the living and the dead" sometimes walk in close proximity to each other—and that he and Matt are walking in "the valley of the shadow of death," but that they should still "fear no evil." When the reverend is invited to cleanse the house, he brings with him a magnetic, iron cross (the iron can contain evil, he explains) that he waves over the walls to determine, apparently, who or what's not at peace. He tells Sara the house isn't so much "haunted as it is possessed." And he later finds what he believes is the source of the house's turmoil—some of Jonah's old bones and dust.
Popescu removes the bones from the house, saying things like, "Don't worry ... we're not here to punish you, only to free you." Then, of course, Jonah's ghost pops up to tell him what's what: The house is actually overflowing with restless spirits, and he, Jonah, was trying to placate them.
Matt gets a similar visitation, and he decides to burn down the house—the walls of which, it turns out, are insulated with dozens of well-preserved corpses. Sara cradles Matt's head and recites the Lord's Prayer as the fire and the specters move toward them. Then, suddenly, whether the fire released the spirits of these corpses or whether the Lord's Prayer did the trick, the ghouls vanish—as does Matt's cancer.
"They say that God works in mysterious ways," Sara says as the film comes to a close. "They just don't always tell you how mysterious those ways might be."
We see Wendy, Matt's older sister, take a shower. (The camera focuses on her shoulders.)
The movie is not as violent as it is menacing and, at times, gross. Corpses lurk in places both expected and unexpected ... in closets, in mirrors, behind members of the Campbell family ... causing moviegoers (like me) to jump again and again and then some more. But they really don't do much except loom and look icky.
The flashbacks to Aickman's occult dabblings are a different matter. We see him carve up bodies and clip an eyelid off. We see Aickman chase Jonah around the house, eventually grabbing him by the hair and pulling him out of sight, to who-knows-where. And during a particularly fateful séance, we see the aforementioned ectoplasm ooze out of Jonah's mouth like an otherworldly lily, then begin to burn. In the next scene, Jonah stands in a room filled with charred bodies, including a mostly burned Aickman who tells him to flee the house. Jonah instead hides in the crematorium, where he's locked in and set on fire. We don't see him burn, but his crisped corpse frequently strolls around the house afterwards.
Elsewhere: Matt wakes up to find his own body bloodied, mysterious runes carved in his flesh. Family members also find him huddled behind a stack of chairs—the wall beside him bloodied and gouged, his fingers raw and bleeding. Sara mops Matt's floor with what appears to be a bucket of blood. Matt pushes his hand through a hollow pillar, grabbing a handful of maggot-filled meat. Crabs crawl on Matt, and one appears to pinch him—just as a nurse injects him with something. A preternaturally animated shower curtain attacks Wendy. A doorknob burns Matt's hand.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word and a smattering of milder profanities ("d--n," "h---"). Characters use both God's and Jesus' names inappropriately.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Peter, Matt's alcoholic dad, stays on the wagon during the first part of the film. But as Matt slowly falls into either madness or possession, Peter takes his own descent into darkness, drinking more and more. He drives drunk. And he flies into a lightbulb-smashing rage while drunk.
Other Negative Elements
The whole Campbell family could use some guidance when it comes to communication: Sara rents the house without talking with Peter. Peter sells his truck without talking with Sara. Matt doesn't tell anyone about the things he's seeing for a good long while. And when Sara learns that Matt may be seeing things, she initially lies to the doctor to keep Matt's experimental treatments going.
Much is made of Matt's nausea. And we see him throw up at one point.
The Wrath of Conn., or as it's more likely billed at your local theater, The Haunting in Connecticut, is, we're told, based on a true story. Actually, it's very loosely based on a Discovery Channel docudrama (A Haunting in Connecticut) that was, in turn, very loosely based on a book (A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting) which, author Ed Garton says, should've really been labeled a work of fiction.
"I honestly don't remember specifically what the first problem was, only that the details of the story given to me by the family involved were not meshing," Garton told amityvillemurders.com. "It seemed everyone was having a problem keeping their stories straight."
But whatever did or did not happen in the real Southington funeral home is a bit beside the point.
As a movie, Haunting is a creepy freak show that offers a surprisingly comforting message: No matter the weirdness you're involved in, God is still in control, and He can do some pretty amazing things in the midst of them.
But that bit of light—which is itself dimmed by a not-so-keen grasp of biblical truth—doesn't redeem the dark, perilous, necromantic mood this film possesses audiences with. The Haunting in Connecticut won't inspire folks to pray by their beds as much as it will to look underneath them for bogeymen.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Virginia Madsen as Sara Campbell; Kyle Gallner as Matt Campbell; Amanda Crew as Wendy Campbell; Martin Donovan as Peter Campbell; Elias Koteas as Reverend Popescu
Peter Cornwell ( )