The Haunting in Connecticut -- Film Review

AUSTIN -- Cancer, an abandoned mortuary and necromancy add up to a renter's nightmare in "The Haunting in Connecticut," the latest "true story" ghost yarn to follow in the large footsteps of a certain horror from Amityville. A bit of visual style and a few tense moments should help the film play with genre devotees, but nothing suggests broader appeal or much replay value on DVD.

Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan play the parents of a boy, Matt (Kyle Gallner), whose cancer is being treated far from their hometown with an experimental therapy. After one too many round trips to the hospital, Madsen insists they rent a place closer to the treatments. Upon finding the spacious, secluded house she'll soon move into -- one with curb appeal but not the iconic menace of more famous haunting sites -- she can't believe how cheap it is. "I'm just wondering, what's the catch?" she asks the landlord, and you can almost hear the undead snickering from beneath the floorboards.

Naturally, Matt likes the idea of making his bedroom in the finished-out basement. He likes it a little less, though, when visions begin to appear suggesting a creepy presence in the mysteriously sealed-up room next door.

Young TV veteran Gallner is hobbled by the pasty makeup and dark eyes required to depict his illness. Once the house's troubled spirits assault him full force -- his proximity to death, we're told, allows him to see them -- there's only so far he can go without looking like a goth cliche.

The visions that appear to Matt -- of defiled corpses and seances gone awry, mostly -- are presented with modern flair, though they hardly compete with the creepy faux-vintage photos that open the film and reappear as evidence. Like a sequel to "Wisconsin Death Trip," to which blooms of ectoplasm have been added, they suggest more horror than the film can convey.

Director Peter Cornwell, making his feature debut after his well-liked animated short "Ward 13," never gets to use the earlier film's energy here. What he has instead is a good deal tamer, though sometimes, as with a troubled exorcist played by Elias Koteas, "Haunting" tweaks familiar tropes enough to make them interesting. Just not so interesting as to inspire many nightmares after the credits roll.