March 27, 2009 in Features

‘A Haunting’ plenty scary without gory body count

Roger Moore Orlando Sentinel
 

Never play hide-and-seek in a haunted house. Isn’t that one of those motherisms handed down at the same time as “Look both ways before crossing the street” and “Don’t eat before swimming”?

But kids will be kids, especially in the movies. And even though the house looks vaguely Amityville-ish, a “Let’s sneak into the old morgue” moment or two turns up in “The Haunting in Connecticut,” an “Amityville Horror” variation “based on the true story.”

In 1987 a struggling extended family is dealing with one member’s cancer. Matt (Kyle Gallner) is the teenage son knocking on death’s door. Only an experimental program at a hospital across state lines gives him any hope.

But mom (Virginia Madsen) won’t put him through those long road trips. She rents a big house that she gets a deal on in Goatswood. Dad (Martin Donovan) is still in the doghouse over his drinking days, so it’s her call.

What does Matt do when he tours the ancient funeral home? He moves his mattress to the basement. When you’re close to death, you know no fear. But that thesis gets a serious workout from the get-go as the boy begins to hallucinate – he sees dead people. It’s as if he’s a participant in the seances he sees these dead folk carrying out.

Nobody but Matt sees the apparitions. So when the other kids (Amanda Crew plays a cousin they’ve taken in) move in, they don’t know anything’s wrong. Matt is sick and getting sicker. His treatment, which will end if he tells the doctors he is seeing things, is making him see things, or so everybody believes.

If you’ve seen any of the “Amityville Horror” movies you know the arc of the story. Nobody believes in ghosts but one guy. There’s a holy man (Elias Koteas) who senses the evil in the house but whose warnings may not be enough. Then one bang-up night all hell breaks loose.

These movies live and die on their “gotcha” moments, and “Haunting” has a few dandies – a dark presence glimpsed in a mirror, or in flashes of light in total darkness.

As with “The Last House on the Left,” this latest film fright sinks or swims with the actors. Gallner makes a very convincing boy-about-to-die; Madsen is his properly stricken mom; and Donovan, an under-used leading man, plays the stressed, guilt-ridden dad well.

The title is “Haunting,” not “Stabbing, Hatcheting or Butchered with a Machete in Connecticut,” so it won’t appeal to the hardcore gore crowd. But it has plenty of creep-you-out potential for kids just discovering big-screen horror.

For times and locations, see page 6.

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