There are of course at least a dozen different “sub-genres” beneath the glorious heading we all refer to as Horror. Some folks like the monster movies, others dig the slashers, this guy might be a fan of psychological horror, and this gal might be obsessed with all things devil-related. Crazy kids, angry animals, apocalyptic insanity — that’s sort of the beauty of horror films: There are so damn many different types. Today we’re here to discuss a sub-genre that I refer to as “occult thriller that are allegedly and loosely based on actual events, even if that’s just a bunch of marketing BS that’s employed simply to get some butts in the cineplex seats.” You know the ones: The Entity, The Amityville Horror, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, etc. Horror films more interested in having you believe their “factuality” than in anything else, and it’s a sales gimmick that actually seems to work sometimes. Now, obviously I have no idea how much of Peter Cornwell’s The Haunting in Connecticut is based on events that actually occurred, but I can tell you…

that, as a basic Friday-night thriller that’s tailor-made for people who scare easy, it’s not a half-bad little flick. Powerfully familiar in some spots, and aggressively predictable in others, the film still benefits from a confident directorial touch that manages to make even the most conventional of ghostly trappings seem just a little bit fresh. (Or at least fresher than than this stuff usually seems to be.) At its core, The Haunting in Connecticut is as basic as a late-night campfire tale — but hey, a lot of us folks still LIKE late-night campfire tales, even when they’re ones we’ve pretty much heard before.

Poor Matt Campbell is having a really bad month: Not only does he have to repeatedly travel with his mother to a distant cancer clinic, but he’s just now getting used to the fact that he could die soon. Things get even more unpleasant when the Campbells (mom, dad, Matt, two young siblings, and a helpful cousin) decide to rent a creepy old house in Connecticut, in order to stay closer to the hospital. Unfortunately for all, it seems that the Campbell’s new house used to be a funeral home — plus there’s a locked door in the basement that simply will not open. Long story short: Matt has to contend with not only chemotherapy, but also with a furious ghost who clearly resides in that creepy locked room. Matt initially keeps his visions to himself, for fear of losing his chemo treatment (?), but eventually he lets his family in on the news … and then it’s Haunted House central: Clangy noises, bumps in the night, disturbing clues hidden beneath floorboards, and a secret history that only reveals itself once everyone is scared out of their ever-lovin’ wits.

All the things you normally like to yell at haunted house movies will certainly apply here: “Don’t go in there!” and “Uh, DON’T sleep down there,” of course, but also “stop digging through clues!” and (the old favorite) “Just get out! Go get a hotel room!” This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, there’s something undeniably comfortable about settling down with a very familiar, old-fashioned ghost story; on the other, there’s not really much in The Haunting in Connecticut that astute horror fans haven’t seen before. Several times, in fact. The movie (handsomely shot but rather flatly written) does set an intriguing mood with its creepy backstory, frequent flashbacks to sepia-toned supernaturalism, intimidating setting, and over-tweaked sound design — but when the flick isn’t focused on the creepy stuff, it’s chugging (quickly but basically) through a short series of TV-style subplots. (Oh no, the family is broke! Ack, dad is a recovering alcoholic!)

Perfectly suited for younger (say, teenaged) moviegoers who need something dark and creepy once in a while, and entirely appropriate for the more seasoned genre fan (provided they pick it up on DVD or snag it on HBO), The Haunting in Connecticut does a fine job of setting up its mood, its jolts, and its (surprisingly effective) backstory — Mr. Cornwell deserves credit for approaching his ghost story with no trace of snark or irony — it’s perhaps just a little too familiar for the exceedingly experienced horror freaks. If you’re a big fan of creaking floorboards, sudden jolts, and abandoned funeral homes full of furious spirits, you’ll find enough to enjoy in this familiar-yet-engaging enough little thriller.