February 1, 2013 (VOD)
Abigail Spencer as Lisa Wyrick
Emily Alyn Lind as Heidi Wyrick
Katee Sackhoff as Joyce
Chad Michael Murray as Andy Wyrick
Despite the film’s success, The Haunting in Connecticut failed to grab the attention of many avid horror followers, yours truly included. The picture wasn’t particularly bad in any aspect, it simply didn’t captivate. Tom Elkins’ sequel, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, does a better job of holding the attention, but it’s clearly an inferior production on a technical level. Like it’s immediate predecessor it’s not a horrible flick, but it does suffer from a lack of refinement.
Is it worth a watch you ask? It is worth a watch, it must be admitted. The story itself is derived from factual events. The Wyrick family featured in the film do indeed exist, and some awkward occurrences definitely happened in their humble Ellerslie, Georgia abode. The parallels between factual accounts and fiction appear to differ significantly between film and documented occurrences, but the heart of the story – young Heidi Wyrick’s connection to the long-deceased Mr. James Gordy – is intact. The interesting thing is, David Coggeshall’s seeming embellishment of the original story is actually the greatest strength the film boasts. Typically, all the “extra” filler content and conflict spoils a (supposed “based on real events”) picture, but the details here are rather well fleshed out, and prove to be quite disturbing.
Running wild on the net, I’m having trouble tracking down thorough details (not enough time in the day to squeeze in a viewing of one of multiple documentary projects on the events) of the Wyrick’s experience. According to numerous media outlets Gordy and Heidi certainly shared some strange para-psychological connection, but the conflict featured in the film looks to be a different story. By all accounts that I’m able to track down, the antagonistic spirit that was featured in the picture wasn’t a taxidermist, didn’t house a sadistic torture chamber ruled under the ruse of sanctuary for slaves, and didn’t kidnap and attempt to kill young Heidi, in real life. Wait, were those spoilers? Apologies.
That’s the gist of the cinematic take on this story. There are spirits roaming about the Wyrick’s property. Some good, some bad, some with a message to relay. After one too many encounters to ignore, the family begins seeking a little help, but the malignant forces at work are Hell-bent on adding the Wyrick family to the lineup of tormented souls that no longer walk among the living. And yes, those were certainly spoilers in the previous paragraph: we’ve got a Station Master working an underground railroad stop, and he’s not quite the warm, slave saving figure he’s been believed to be.
David Coggeshall really does deserve a wealth of praise for this script. The man took a very… open (if you will) account of paranormal activity, and tightened it up by introducing a clear cut clash of good and evil that resonates on a social as well as emotional level. Barring the obvious racist, it’s tough to imagine few who can pretend to justify slavery, and Coggeshall’s decision to base the entire story on 200 year old wrong doings works to successfully unnerve viewers. David essentially takes a few scenes from the pages of “real life” and effectively expands, manifesting a complete story with a couple memorable characters, heart-breaking conflict and eventual resolution intact.
Had Coggeshall dropped the ball with the script it’s Not perfect I should note, just far better than expected), this one could easily be called a complete failure. There aren’t all too many redeemable qualities to pin down outside of the story itself.
The onscreen performances certainly aren’t terrible. Abigail Spencer does a fine job as Lisa Wyrick, the mother designed to be loathed (she pulls the cliche refusal to believe in what her daughter repeatedly tells her), and Chad Michael Murray pulls off the passionate young father (been there!) pretty damn well. Unfortunately for Murray (and audiences), Andy Wyrick serves as little more than support to the picture’s three leading ladies, Lisa, Heidi and Heidi’s aunt, Joyce (played with conviction by Halloween: Resurrection’s Katee Sackhoff). Chad’s got plenty of screen time, but his role feels completely detached, a result of the biggest script mishap. As a whole, the ensemble is sound, but it’s unlikely you’ll finish this one thinking Academy Award baby!
The visual department is where the film sputters. Virtually every scare is preceded by a shift in visual practice. Viewers bounce back and forth between your typical shot and fright sequencesdrenched in miserably cheap post-production filters. First time director Tom Elkins (who also serves as editor) gives every tense moment away by shrouding the image in a hokey vintage sheen time and again. If something creepy is about to happen, just look for the film to go all monochrome on you, the “fear” is on the way, you can bet. Interestingly enough, Elkins only manifests legit terror during a few buildups, in moments in which – it seems – he’s not even intentionally delivering the chills. The “big payoffs” themselves are akin to depositing a $500 paycheck only to learn you’re $501 overdrawn. They fail, flat out, and terribly so at that.
The pacing and fluidity of the picture neither succeed nor fail. Things move at a fair pace, but as a viewer, I never found myself chomping at the bit in anticipation, or profoundly bored for that matter. This is a decent film, and little more. For me that doesn’t cut it in today’s market. I’m one who looks for smooth transitions, perfectly timed cuts and unique camera angles, as I’m a believer that those qualities empower pictures and help to build a burning desire to invest every ounce of your attention in one specific piece of art, but you won’t find any of that in The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, and you won’t leap to label this one art, either.
Despite Elkins’ mishaps, he’s still able to nail a few scenes (one fantastic sequence unfolds in the waning minutes of the film underground, and while I won’t reveal precisely what happens, I will say it was nice to see Tom really smash what proves to be a crucial shot), and he seems capable of siphoning good performances from his crew. I chalk this stumble up to inexperience; Tom will be back and he’ll be far better equipped to direct a quality picture in round two.
Look for a fairly rewarding finale, a few unexpected jolts and a small handful of admirable performances. You won’t tag many other qualities beyond that in this film. It’s not frightening, and it’s not particularly memorable, but it’s not an outright bomb. What it is, is a good flick to grab when your local Blockbuster is out of the movies you really wanted to see.