Released earlier this year, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia immediately earned mockery and derision around the internet. Not for the film itself, necessarily, but for having one of the most awe-inspiringly terrible titles in film history. Apparently the working title of the film was The Haunting in Georgia (and the third film in this disconnected series is apparently in the works as The Haunting in New York), so one wonders why they didn’t just go with that. As it is, in the interest of preserving my sanity and my carpal tunnel, I’ll be referring to the film as Ghosts of Georgia for the rest of this review.
The absurdity of the title is almost enough to put one off the film from the beginning. But if bad movies can have good titles, it is at least theoretically possible for a good movie to have a bad title. And it’s October, so the time seemed ripe to give the film a chance. I have not seen the original The Haunting in Connecticut, but I surmised (correctly) that with the title it isn’t so much a true sequel as merely a similar concept with the same director, Tom Elkins.
Somewhere, somebody is Photoshopping this kid in front of a burning building.
Ghosts of Georgia follows the ordeal of the Wysick family, who — as is the norm for haunted house stories — have just moved into an isolated fixer-upper with extensive property. Chad Michael Murray plays the husband, Andy, and it’s a little bit of a thankless role for him, as the character gets very little development or focus; this film is all about the female characters, particularly the wife, Lisa (Abigail Spencer). The women in Lisa’s family are gifted with visions and the ability to see the dead. Lisa views this ability as a curse and an illness, and has been taking medication to block the visions. Her sister Joyce (Katee Sackhoff) views it as a gift to be utilized. And young daughter Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind) has just started to have visions of her own… or at least, her “imaginary friend” Mr. Gordy seems to know a little too much about the history of the land for a figment of the imagination. Gradually more ghosts make their presence known, and Lisa is forced to confront her ability as well as the history of their home.
There is the kernel of a decent story here. It ties in with Civil War history and the Underground Railroad, and this historical background gives the story something interesting to hook the viewer. This is important because, despite the actors being reasonably good in their roles, there isn’t much to latch onto with the characters. Sackhoff is probably the most gifted actress in the group, and has the most interesting character, but she’s underutilized, serving mainly to provide Spencer’s character somebody to blame for the visions. Spencer herself does a good job of showing her character to be frightened and distraught by the visions, but it’s in that very fright where the film suffers, ironically for a horror movie. Lisa is freaking out, but it’s clear that there is very little cause for her to be doing so.
This rocking chair is terrifying, I tell you.
The film’s basic problem is that it is as tonally confused as its title is geographically confused. It wants to be a horror movie. It wants the audience to feel chills and scares. And it wants to do this with ghosts that are shown to be as benign and benevolent as Casper. Mr. Gordy (Grant James) never moves an object in a threatening manner, never utters a threatening word. From Heidi’s reactions, and the messages she passes on to her parents, he acts mostly like a surrogate grandfather. The other ghosts are similarly non-threatening; they may want attention for their plights, but they’re polite about it. While there is eventually a bad ghost, it’s only in the last third of the film that it comes up.
And yet the film wants to be a horror movie before that singular scary element comes into play. There are jump scares aplenty, but there is nothing to be scared of; it’s always something completely benign, and sometimes mundane. In some cases it appears as though Abigail Spencer is literally jumping at the sudden alteration of the soundtrack. Although the film is at least reasonably well done on a technical level, and has decent acting, it makes staggeringly poor usage of the jump scare technique — which is not a very good technique in the first place. The end result of the jump scares and of Lisa’s freakouts is that the viewer is left feeling not frightened, but annoyed at the main character. For most of the movie it’s honestly easier to believe that she might harm her own child out of fear than to believe that any of the ghosts present a viable threat. By the time the malicious spirit does finally make an appearance, fatigue has set in from the constant failed attempts to make the film frightening, and it fails to impress, particularly as it goes rather over-the-top when it does arrive. It’s as though the film wants to make up an entire film’s worth of fright in five minutes.
As with its predecessor, and all too many horror films nowadays, Ghosts of Georgia is allegedly based on a true story. This conceit worked with fellow 2013 ghost story The Conjuring (contrary to my usual expectations) but it doesn’t work as well here, mostly because the script writers don’t let it. The “true story” aspect in The Conjuring was handled in such a way as to help ground the story and make it believable. It could almost work the same in Ghosts of Georgia, and for much of the film it does… but that tonal inconsistency wrecks it. The false jump scares and the over-the-top arrival of the villain blow the credibility of it away. Even the final epilogue, showing the actual participants, ends up reading false due to its delivery and phrasing. The visions — which had been shown in the film as a pre-existing, generational thing — stop after the incident, we are told. Apparently the whole family was granted this ability just so they’d be able to uncover what happened at this place once they got there? The “real life” epilogue shouldn’t raise more questions about the film than it can answer.
The sad thing about all of this is that it’s possible to see a decent story lurking in the confused mess that is Ghosts of Georgia. But that story isn’t a horror story, only a ghost story. The two are not synonymous, and director Tom Elkins and writer David Coggeshall needed to consider that before making the film. Much like the title, something usable comes out of it if cuts are made. But much like the title, removing the chaff doesn’t leave a whole lot.