Opening Friday, March 27th
Directed by Peter Cornwell
Breaking away from the slew of recent slasher remakes, this “original” haunted house film claims to be “based on the true story” and there are certainly aspects that are believable to anyone even remotely knowledgeable about ghosts and the supernatural. Otherwise, it’s just another movie that hopes to capitalize on younger horror fans who haven’t done their homework who might think what they’re seeing is something new and original.
It begins with Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner as mother and son, driving through the New England countryside, the boy in the back seat in a sweat. We learn early on that Matt is suffering from some form of cancer and rather than driving to and from Connecticut a few times a week for special treatment, the family decides to get a house closer to the clinic. As soon as they move in, Matt starts seeing things and behaving oddly, which everyone owes it to his medication and treatment, but he soon learns that the house has a dark history that’s remained behind for all those years.
It’s a clever idea and somewhat of a new twist to have a cancer-stricken teen be the catalyst for being able to see spirits, and when the film starts getting into necromancy and sÃ©ances, one can certainly hope that this is a smarter horror movie based in facts. Like David Goyer’s “The Unborn,” the movie ends up being far too smart for its own good, as it piles on so many ideas that the combination of all f them starts to make even the most plausible idea sound dumb. Those watching this might wonder what about it was taken from the “true story” and the only thing that seems plausible is that the producers heard about a funeral home in Connecticut that burned down and maybe they discovered sÃ©ances took place there, because all the rest of it just seems like typical horror movie cliches.
The horrors in this case revolve around the past wrongdoings of the owner of the funeral home who cut mystical symbols and words into the dead bodies and snipped off their eyelids, and we continually see these engraved ghosts wandering around, haunting the inhabitants of the house. There’s also a burned ghost popping up for scaresâ€”doesn’t take a genius that this is the ghost of someone who died in a fire. Infinitely more interesting than watching the family being terrorized are the flashbacks to sÃ©ances being held in the house, in which a young psychic boy named Jonah is contacted by the dead, not particularly scary in itself but sillier when he starts spewing ectoplasm from his mouthâ€”that’s what the poster shows in case you wondered what that was. It’s a fine example of the film’s weak CG, which really ruins any sense of danger or dread in those scenes.
In general, the movie is never particularly scary, always relying on the cheapest of scares possible to try to get a reactionâ€”figures in mirrors or appearing behind someone–often leading to someone waking up or freaky and confusing “flashbacks” that hint at the ghost’s origins. Otherwise, it always goes for the most overused set-ups possiblyâ€”when someone starts walking into a basement or an attic, one pretty much knows what to expect. A big deal is made of this sealed-off room in the basement from the moment they arrive in the house, but then everyone keeps returning to it. Surely at a certain point, they’d realize that it’s the center of all the ghostly activity, right?
Across the board, the writing is pretty awful and no amount of scares can save that. Nor can the mediocre cast, led by Virginia Madsen, who squanders what’s left of the good will she received after her Oscar nomination with an overwrought performance that does little to elevate the material. Kyle Gallner isn’t much better, giving the same brooding gloomy performance that one could have easily seen from Robert Pattinson or Jonathan Tucker or any number of other young actors.
Having previously helmed an animated short, director Peter Cornwell doesn’t do a terrible job with his live action debut, but it’s clear that he watched a lot of similar movies to try to emulate the imagery and what made them work. The problem is that if you’ve seen all those moviesâ€”as any horror fan would haveâ€”you’re never surprised or scared by any of this. Just about every aspect of this movie’s attempted scares have been seen before, often done better. If you have any sort of movie knowledge, you can literally watch the movie and figure out exactly what movie everything has been swiped from. This includes things like the man of the house, played by Martin Donovan, having a drinking problemâ€”something that’s hinted at but never exactly outright shown–and later, Matt comes to the house bearing an axe as “homage” to Jack Nicholson’s famous scene from “The Shining.” Elias Koteas even shows up midway as a priest, just so that they can throw in a few “Exorcist” swipes on top of everything else. Otherwise, there’s a lot of ridiculous scenes like when Matt starts seeing CG crabs scuttling around and other silliness that few horror fans will put up with, let alone movie lovers just looking for a few casual scares.
The Bottom Line: