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The most unwieldy sequel title in a while indicates that the
movie is not really a sequel at all. While this and the original THE HAUNTING
IN CONNECTICUT are based on a pair of Discovery Channel documentary features,
the new movie has nothing to do with Connecticut or the events that took place
there—and the association is rather unfortunate, since in some ways GHOSTS OF
GEORGIA is superior to its predecessor.
For one thing, the film (in limited theatrical release and
on VOD today from Lionsgate) never tries to pretend that the apparitions
bedeviling heroine Lisa Wyrick (Abigail Spencer) are anything other than
supernatural, though she’s been trying to chase them away by pharmaceutical
means. Shortly after the movie opens, she and her husband Andy (Chad Michael
Murray) and their preteen daughter Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind) move out of the city
and into a new home in the Georgia sticks that, it turns out, has quite a lot
of history. It’s also got a dilapidated mobile home in the back, which comes in
handy when Lisa’s irresponsible sister Joyce (Katee Sackhoff) turns up, having
just gotten out of her latest bad relationship and needing a place to stay.
It soon turns out that Lisa’s ability to see dead people is
a family “gift,” and Heidi begins showing the first signs of inheriting it. In
particular, she makes the acquaintance of “Mr. Gordy” (Grant James), an elderly
spirit who hangs out in the woods surrounding the Wyricks’ new home. The dates
flashed on screen to lend the proceedings an air of it-really-happened
legitimacy notwithstanding, what ensues are the usual cinematic haunted-house
trappings, as the characters slowly become aware of the place’s tragic history,
and the specters begin showing more of themselves amidst lots of flash-frames,
altered colors and other gratuitous visual tricks.
There’s a little more going on in David Coggeshall’s script
than usual in this kind of paranormal fare, though (certainly more than is
suggested in the film’s generic, LAST EXORCISM-esque poster). Lisa’s mix of
fear and denial regarding Heidi’s adoption of her spirit-seeing ability adds to
the tension, there are (unlike in …CONNECTICUT) reasonable explanations offered
why the Wyricks don’t just split when the freaky stuff starts and the unfolding
of the haunting’s source reveals a connection to the region’s broader history.
That puts the movie on touchy ground, as said history involves slavery; the
house, as it turns out, was a stop on the Underground Railroad back in the
1800s. No doubt it’s a coincidence that THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS
OF GEORGIA is coming out in the very close wake of DJANGO UNCHAINED, but all
the brouhaha that film inspired points up how tricky it can be to adapt one of
history’s greatest horrors into a genre entertainment.
For the most part, Coggeshall and first-time director Tom
Elkins (who edited …CONNECTICUT) pull it off, approaching the subject with the
appropriate gravity and keeping the focus on one specific incident rather than
attempting to make an overall statement. They even got no less than Cicely
Tyson to appear in the film as blind Mama Kay, and one wishes she could have
made more than her brief appearance here, bonding with the chile with the
sight. The many scenes in which that young girl is subjected to horrific and
traumatizing situations also had the potential to be uncomfortable, with Lind’s
resilient and sympathetic performance doing a lot to take that curse off. It’s
possible to share her fear as the movie goes on, too, as Elkins cranks up the
intensity, transitions from the ethereal to the visceral and delivers a few
sustained, powerful scare setpieces in the second half. Particularly effective
are those set in an underground chamber near the Wyricks’ property, where the
secrets of the past are finally given up.
The revelation of just what went on down there muddles
things up a bit, as the film can’t seem to decide whether the central
malefactor is a true villain or a tragic victim. And the film closes with a
coda that’ll likely be a groaner for some of the horror fans watching. Still,
even in the midst of a genre scene cluttered with paranormal projects, so many
of them presented as or inspired by true events, GHOSTS OF GEORGIA finds ways to breathe a bit
of new life into the dead.
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