Three films with ‘Haunt’ in the title, and all watched comparatively recently.
A Haunting in Massachusetts (2014)
This is a curious film, and nothing at all like the spooky, children in peril flick suggested by the illustration on the DVD case. Tom and Brenda have the perfect life in LA – he’s a successful architect and she jogs – but then Brenda gets violently raped in her own home and it all comes tumbling down. They, with their son Rodger, head back to New England and Brenda’s family home, where her father welcomes them to stay despite obvious disapproval of Tom. And from there things go from bad to worse, with evidence of supernatural intrusions and the couple’s attempts to save their marriage getting twisted into malignant patterns. Somehow they have become involved in an ancient feud between a dead Viking warrior and a witch. Tom determines to save his wife and son, not realising that in fact it is he himself who is in danger. I’m not sure what to think of this film – there is some vivid imagery, a few solid scare moments, and at times it can be quite harrowing, as with Brenda’s rape, the sexual violence in the couple’s relationship, and the final fate of Tom. On the downside, I couldn’t really make much sense of the whole thing with the Viking and the witch, and the scenes in which their history was acted out seemed hopelessly naff, as if somebody had thought to do something different with a ghost story, but then failed to think through the implications of their plan. It’s a film where I feel I need to watch it again to make up my mind, but at the same time there’s nothing that really prompts me to make such an effort, which kind of tells its own story.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
I saw this at the cinema when it first came out, and remember vaguely liking it, which is an opinion that still stands today after watching the DVD. Sara moves her family, including recovering alcoholic husband Peter, into a house closer to the hospital where son Matt is being treated for cancer. Matt chooses to make his bedroom in the basement, where a secret doorway is soon discovered and the family learns that they have moved into a former mortuary. It’s the launch pad for a whole barrage of fright sized special effects, with exorcist Nicholas on hand to help out, as they slowly delve ever deeper into the past of the house and the acts of necromancy practised by its former owner. Cue the inevitable release of spirits and an act of spiritual catharsis. It’s a feel good movie, one where the natural order is threatened but eventually family values and ‘no greater love’ surge forth victorious, and yeah, I guess I have no real complaints on that score. The parts are all played with panache, with special kudos to Virginia Marsden as mother Sara, Kyle Gallner as Matt, and Elias Koteas as Nicholas. There are jump moments and a suitably garish and grotesque back story. At times it’s quite cringe-making. Despite all that though, it feels like stuff we’ve seen plenty of times before and done better, and there’s nothing on the supernatural side of things that can compete with the horror of Matt’s cancer.
Same old, same old. The Asher family move into a house with a history, and soon after son Evan starts experiencing paranormal activity. With the help of mysterious neighbour girl Samantha, who is being abused by her father, Evan investigates further. They discover a hidden room and an Electronic Voice Phenomena box that was used by a previous occupant of the house to communicate with the dead, and they decide to follow in his footsteps. It’s a bad move, and inevitably things go pear shaped. I enjoyed this one, without wanting to go overboard in praising it. There’s some good characterisation, with the burgeoning romance between Evan and Samantha convincing. There are some nicely shot scenes, especially the first night time meeting between the two young lovers. The whole thing with EVP adds a novel element to the haunting, one that hasn’t been used ad infinitum like most of the tricks of the haunting horror subgenre. And there is a mystery involved in the story as well, so that we can get some fun out of figuring out who the characters are, both the living and the dead, and where they fit into the final pattern. There’s nothing to dislike really, just a competently written and executed chiller.