"Based on a true story" tends to give fiction a different weight; horror filmmakers are especially fond of using it to label their movies even though it may not be in the movie's best interest.
Despite what his mother (Virginia Madsen) chooses to believe, Matt (Kyle Gallner) is dying of cancer. His medicine is costly, his father (Martin Donovan) is resentful and the long drives to the hospital for treatment are exhausting. In an attempt to eliminate one of their problems, Matt's family moves into a big house closer to the hospital. Only, instead of making their lives easier, the house adds to their difficulties – and its main focus is the already weakened Matt. Their only support is the similarly dying Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas), who tries to help the family save themselves.
A great opportunity for doubt is missed with the true story label appearing at the very beginning. While Matt wonders if his visions are real or induced by his experimental treatment, the audience knows they are real because we've already been told the film is based on a real-life ghost story. Of course, we all know movie real and world real are very different – everything is dramatized. That said, the real-life mom, Carmen Reed, felt the screen-version of her story was equally terrifying and similar.
The first act follows the classically successful "there one minute, gone the next" style. A shadow passes a doorway; a reflection vanishes from a mirror; and shadowy bodies move behind frosted glass; in addition there are the strange noises that go bump in the night. Even the illusions incorporated are not too over-the-top. Then the strange occurrences become a mystery that need solving. It's not until later that the haunting takes a turn towards Hollywood, with intensified parlour tricks, CGI and well-designed walking dead.
The film's humour is dark, as Matt jokes about cancer even as it visibly ravages his body. But most of the time, outside of the audience, Matt is the only one able to see the humour in the situation. They should have lightened up because soon enough there's nothing to smile about anyway. Other fun moments come with the warnings that scream through your head because someone decides to go into a dark basement or hide in dumbwaiter.
Haunting in Connecticut is made in the same vain as The Exorcist and The Haunting of Emily Rose, so fans of the genre are sure to be pleased. And it’s got a good scare or two thrown in for good measure.