2009, Based on a true story, film review, Ghost Story, horror film review, Kyle Gallner, Lutz family, movie, real ghost story, Snedeker family, The Haunting in Connecticut, true haunting, true story, Virginia Madsen
A lot of horror film ‘fans’ and people who stalk the internet on a personal quest to debunk anything which parades itself as proof of the supernatural hate this film. They get their knickers in a right bunch at the very mention of its name.
And why is this? Well, about 19 seconds into the trailer we find clue number 1:
Yes that’s right, The Haunting in Conneticut claims to be based on a true story! Oh mah Gad!
The Snedeker family of Connecticut – much like the Lutz family of Amityville, New York – found fame when accounts of their experiences within their supposedly haunted family home were published. The Snedekers, much like the Lutzs, were probably more than a little flexible with the truth of their account. (In the same way that contortionists are a little flexible with their limbs). Ray Garton, the author whose work first brought attention to this family, has openly admitted he made up half the story. And finally the makers of this film have also decided to take some seriously artistic license with the existing accounts. So saying it’s based on true events could be considered pushing it a bit.
And reason number 2 for all the haterz? Well apparently it’s a rip off of Amityville Horror. No shit? I’m pretty sure that’s what the Snedeker’s had in mind from the moment it popped into their drug addled little brains that they had ended up living in a funeral parlour. Ca-ching! You can just picture the dollar signs dancing in their eyes.
But come on now, let’s clarify a couple of things. It is well publicised that the Amityville Horror story has more holes in it than a suspicious piece of Swiss Cheese, but people still watch it. And any film which has the words ‘based on a true story’ plastered over the top of it, is usually trying much too hard to convince you that it’s true. I mean come on, any horror film that claims to be based on a true story is setting the criteria pretty wide. By that standard I could claim that Bambi is a true story because a deer got shot once, or that Harry Potter is also based on a true story because there was some orphan kid with glasses.
For this story to be accurately based on true events, it would have to be the horrifying tale of how one family exploited their schizophrenic son and two daughters, while (according to some accounts) suffering the effects of illicit drugs; the publishers who were willing to cash in on this sorry state of affairs and the impoverished writer who would do anything to make a quick buck. Oh yeah and the gullible members of the American public who fell for it.
So any intelligent person going to see this film knows what to expect when they see the words ‘based on true events.’ And some of those people might check out the history of the story when they get home (and be a bit disappointed, but hardly surprised, when they find out how little truth there is behind it). Framing a ghost story within the premise of its being true is not a new idea. M.R James did it. William Hope Hodgson did it. Gerald Durrell did it (very well as it turns out). Horror films from Blairwitch to Picnic at Hanging Rock did it. Everybody does it. Why? Because it’s one of the easiest and best ways to make a supernatural story effective. Not all of these works of fiction put ‘Based on True Events’ at the start – but they are aiming at the same effect. Picnic at Hanging Rock never even claimed to be true, but it’s so convincing people think it is to this day. At the very heart of why a ghost story is frightening, is the notion that a boundary is being crossed, the impossible is happening. Ghost stories take place in the borderland and an easy way to transport the viewer or reader to that place is to convince them the story is true. Rationally, we know these stories can’t be true, but once that little seed of doubt has been planted, it works beautifully.
So don’t come bitching to me about how terrible it is that this film claims to be based on a true story, so called horror movie fans. Get. Over it.
And as for complaint number 2 – it’s a rip off of Amityville Horror – so what? Do you really think there are any genuinely original stories out there? Of course there aren’t. It’s all been done before. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, and I’m not, but that’s what most fiction is – reinvention. If a premise works well, then use it. Reinvent the cliché. Make the definitive version. Add something fresh. Give it a twist. Make a sturdy, original, tidy, entertaining or intelligent piece of cinema and you are doing well. Do you have any idea how old the oldest haunted house story is? At least 2000 years old. And we are still using some of the elements first introduced then, so don’t come bitching to me about a film not being original.
But back to my original point, if you’re going to use a familiar premise, then make sure you do it well, try and make it feel fresh, don’t rehash old ground too much or you will be creating another cliché. And to be fair – this film does do its job well.
The story is pretty familiar – a family moves into a new home which, it transpires, was once a funeral parlour. Now this film adds a twist through the character of the eldest son Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner). Matt is being treated for cancer but his chances don’t look good. This film explores the idea that people who are closer to death are more likely to see the dead. Gold stars for a touch of depth. The film also plays with the notion that Matt may not be experiencing supernatural events but simply suffering the side effects of his medication. So there’s a human element to this story with the dying boy and his mother. There’s also a strong premise given for both why the family have to stay in the house and why Matt is reticent to discuss his experiences.
This film is good at building tension and delivering scares. There are genuinely sympathetic characters and – my personal favourite – some macabre and disturbing visuals. Yay! In truth, much of what this film has to offer you have probably seen before but it’s well acted and solidly produced. Virginia Madsen and Kyle Garner both give good, strong, convincing performances. This really is a strong about the relationship between these two characters and most of the others fade into the background. But it’s nice to see a mother and teenage son pairing take centre stage, rather than the father/son or young child/mother combination which is much more common. There isn’t an awful lot more I can say about this film. It’s worth watching. It is undeniably in the Amityville vein of horror but it does the job and offers enough new ideas to keep it interesting. It does fall into the same trap that besets all of these horror films – it gets a bit silly and predictable at the end and there are some big clichés – but I still like this movie. It’s not ground breaking, it’s not the definitive movie of its class and it’s totally forgettable – but it’s definitely entertaining and well made.
If you would like to read about the ‘true’ or ‘not so true’ events that inspired this movie, check out the following links: