(2009) dir. Peter Cornwell
The Haunting in Connecticut is a fictionalized, dramatized version of a story popularized on a Discovery Channel show titled A Haunting (actually the story was the pilot, I’ve read). It’s additionally and ultimately based on the “true life” events of a family in Connecticut in the 1980’s, a story of a tremendous, shocking haunted house.
When I’d first seen the television program, I have to say, I watch it with dubious pleasure, when rare pleasure there is. The show opens with an intro that includes the line “In this world, there is true evil…”, a concept that I personally disagree with deeply. But yet, in dire need for occasional entertainment, have allowed myself to delve into this show. This particular episode struck me, as it must have others, as bearing the marks of a more powerful story, something while, neither true nor untrue, was something of greater extremity and power than the average “haunting”.
Set in the late 1980’s, the story follows a family that is forced to relocate to Connecticut in order to be closer to a hospital that the eldest brother, stricken with a rare cancer, needs to attend. This whole move uproots an already stricken family, with a father who is a recovering alcoholic, and who takes in a cousin from a family going through a nasty divorce. They are a pretty standard American family in many ways, until while enduring the experimental procedures, and invested in the family’s newly rented Connecticut house, the sickened brother begins to have visions of death and the beyond.
The thing about this story that is so intriguing is that the family is going through so much emotionally to begin with that their having moved into a former funeral parlor just seems added potential for weirdness. But really, a teenager, faced with his own mortality, going through experimental procedures and drug regimens, living the basement of a former funeral parlor, what kid might not start “seeing things”?
The reality, as much as one can glean, is that his ultimate situation forced his family to have him put into a mental institution, something more severe and foreign, perhaps, than they could have understood at the time, but it’s safe to say that things were getting out of hand. And the resulant “haunting”, real or not, believed or not believed (in the case of the film and the television show, clearly not doubted) is easily understood as both some sympathetic psychological neurosis of the mother and as a result other members of the family.
What isn’t so explainable is that they ultimately did get the Catholic church to perform an exorcism on their house, something that the Church apparently does do but shies sincerely from any publicity about, meaning, there had to be something that made them take it that far.
The bottom line for me about the story is less about proving anything other than the provable, measurable aspects, the facts, if you will. And the fact that the family (mostly via the mother) headed to the press and potentially profitted from it, certainly color any understanding or appreciation. But does that not add to the overtly psychological, sociological reading of the story? What are the facts? Who are these people? The suffered genuine emotional and physical trauma, now at least, obscured through the lens of the paranormal.
The film, like the television show, buys into their interpretation, perhaps with additional literary license. The television show had power in the innate facts beneath the surface, whether or not the show chose to challenge the perceptions of the tellers. The film seems a bit more willing to challenge their perceptions, showing how prone to hallucinations the sick boy was and how with alcoholism and other issues how the family could become so rapt in such a “believed” horror.
But of course the film also not simply “believes” but depicts beyond said events, to totally concocted events that ends up riffing on a seriously impoverished man’s version of Poltergeist (1982), with tremendous numbers of bodies showing up where they would doubtlessly have been discovered prior.
The biggest problem with the film is that it sucks. The directing may actually make the actors and the script seem worse than they are. Virginia Madsen, as the mom, comes off the worst in this, being the central character. The film actually destroys some of the credibility of the potential of the story by amplifying the events to the purely impossible. And the whole thing is even worse and less interesting than the television program, which was no great shakes itself.
I personally believe that there is fascinating material within this true story, whatever one’s take on the paranormal is. Truly there is a psychological, humanistic understanding of reality that doesn’t condemn anyone while not explaining life after death, but understanding human crisis and madness.
This film is not it. At all.