By Keri O’Shea
Much as I love supernatural horror, it has to be said that I’m one fussy bitch when it comes to the genre. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t stop me watching purportedly scary films – only frequently finding faults with what I do see. I guess, deep down, I’m always holding out for another Legend of Hell House or The Innocents, only to be reminded all too often that those who plump for supernatural yarns these days aren’t making films for the likes of me.
But, I mean, come on: look at the cover for The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. Doesn’t fill one with confidence, does it? I know that the people who somehow get commissioned to do DVD artwork these days have two ideas; a woman getting dragged backwards across a floor, or a girl hanging backwards in a shape well, a bit like this. I know that the ‘based on true events’ tagline is more or less mandatory to the point of being meaningless. I also know that the possibility of a franchise is so important in these uncertain times that, apparently, a film set in fucking Georgia can still miraculously be ‘A Haunting in Connecticut 2’. And yet, to see all of these things condensed into one package…well, my heart can still sink, which is testament to something. It’s fair to say I approached this screener with caution, and what I got from it was more or less exactly what I expected.
The plot, as ‘re-imagined’ here, goes a little like this. A young family, mother Lisa (Abigail Spencer), husband Andy (Chad Michael Murray) and daughter Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind) move house to a historical old building in the boonies of, you’ve guessed it, Georgia. From the get-go we’re shown that mom is possibly a little unhinged and sees spooks, something which she deals with by popping anti-spook pills. However, the new place seems cool, and the arrival of free spirit/possible slut aunt Joyce on the scene spices things up a little. We’re soon shown that all the women of the family have a tendency to see spirits, even little Heidi, who begins to regale the others with tales of a Mr. Gordy, a character that the family are able to verify used to be the homeowner…although he died, back in 1979. Uh-oh. Nor is he the worst that the family has to deal with; other spirits rock up, and some of these seem decidedly less benign than Mr Gordy…
For those not in the know, it’s worth mentioning that the ‘based on true events’ line here has more clout than many. Back around ten years ago, there was a series of TV movies entitled ‘A Haunting In…’ and A Haunting in Georgia was one of the episodes; to be transformed into a movie, a great deal of the events reported by the real family featured in the earlier version have been significantly changed, and the presentation of their story has altered wildly, too. This is a real shame, because I’ll be honest: the original telling was incredibly creepy. Whatever you happen to think happened to the Wyrick family, their straightforward, earnest explanation of their experiences and the low-key dramatisation which accompanied it was effectively unsettling. It didn’t fit into a clear story arc and it had no neat Hollywood resolution; the most terrifying events which were recounted were often very minimal, and it was this unpredictable, nonsensical quality which made it work so well. Okay, so the 2013 version which starts with the Wyrick family story wears its heart on its sleeve, at least. The first frames clue you in to the style of horror which is to follow. But as a scary story, it is massively inferior. As in so many modern ghost stories, the filmmakers here seem to weigh the success of the horror against the number of jump-scares – a rookie error, I’m sorry, and one which places The Haunting in Connecticut 2 squarely in the middle of the sheer mob of films which all do this. When the film forgets that it has to be slicker, faster and louder than the previous version, it shows that it can achieve a few decently creepy moments. The less fanfare, the better – but reproducing the kind of tropes which are now so ubiquitous that they’re meaningless is a mistake. We don’t need spasmodic, long-haired girl ghosts in everything. We just don’t. It’s naff.
…And where the film does try to branch off, doing something novel, it elects to distort the first story in a series of head-scratching ways. In some respects, the introduction of The Bad Guy spook here where there’s a back story and a shock resolution makes the film less like a ghost story and more like a slasher; is there room for both elements in a movie? Maybe, maybe not, but the ways in which the film veers off into this territory felt awkward. Still, at all times it kept up a decent pace, and Emily Alin Lind’s performance as Heidi lends some well-enacted terror, which helped at least to imbue the film with some of the qualities it seemed to desire.
Ultimately, a good ghost story should make you feel as though you are standing on the precipice of something beyond your understanding, and it should make you realise your vulnerability as you do so. Although a decently-made film in terms of its cinematography and performances, The Haunting in Connecticut fails at this and so ultimately fails as a ghost story. There are some shocking missed opportunities here. Still, part-timers may enjoy the BOO! moments and be kinder about overlooking the somewhat schizophrenic approach to storytelling which got under my skin more than the horror.
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia will be available on DVD and Blu-ray via Lionsgate UK on 3rd March 2014.