There's not much wrong with the house in "The Haunting in Connecticut" that a little WD-40 couldn't cure. Everything creaks, including the dialogue. You'd swear the place was haunted by the ghost of a sound designer whose predilection for metallic clangs every time an apparition swoops by a mirror turns this thing into a virtual anvil chorus.
The movie bumps along from low-grade scare to scare, and it's not lousy, mainly because Virginia Madsen prevents it from being so. It offers the requisite "jump" bits -- Scary face in the mirror! Moldy ham in the fridge! -- and first-time feature director Peter Cornwell manages some evocatively grisly images of long-ago mortuary activity and necromancy and PG-13-level nastiness. The PG-13 horror market's generally pretty attractive to investors, and "The Haunting in Connecticut" may get by. But the results are more dutiful than driven, beginning with its drably functional title. What's next, "A Seance in New Jersey"? "A Medical Conference at the University of North Dakota"?
The film alleges to be based on a true story, and for a little more on that, I refer you to carmenreed.com, maintained by the inspiration for our film's stalwart God-fearing heroine. (Sample Web site header, offering supernatural housecleaning for a fee: "Do you need help with a haunting?") Preceded by the book "In a Dark Place" and a Discovery Channel doc, also called "A Haunting in Connecticut," screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe waste no time getting to it. Sara (Madsen) and recovering alcoholic Peter (Martin Donovan) rent a big Victorian house near the hospital where son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing an experimental radiation treatments for cancer. All that square footage for such reasonable rent. "I'm just wondering: Where's the catch?" asks Madsen, as only a game alum of "Candyman" (good, scary horror film) could spin it.
The catch: It's a former mortuary, though the movie's weirdly fuzzy on how much Sara knows about the history, and when she knows it. In the basement, years ago, horrible things were done to bodies, and the funeral parlor director had a clairvoyant son, Jonah, whose specter wastes no time in psychically friending poor Matt. At first he's the only one in the house who can see the blood on the floor and the maggots here and there. Then everybody starts freaking out. Elias Koteas, whose weary countenance comes from the Jason Miller "Exorcist" school of method horror acting, portrays a reverend who helps settle the hash of the spooks, though Koteas takes everything in such blase stride, you'd think it was the guy's 15th haunting that week.
"The Haunting in Connecticut," for the record, was shot in tax-advantageous Manitoba. Will the U.S. ever get the hint that it might consider similar refunds on a federal level to compete with runaway production? Next thing you know they'll be shooting the musical "Chicago" in Toronto. Oh. Wait. They did.