WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Loosely based on a documentary about a family who encountered strange goings-on in their new home this Hollywood-ized version finds the Campbell clan moving into a Victorian-style house in upstate Connecticut only to find it was once a funeral parlor dating back to the 1920s where spiritual entities crossed over thanks to the then-owner's clairvoyant son Jonah. You might think they would have gotten the idea that all was not so charming and quaint by the fact there's also a creepy cemetery next door but with the father usually off on a drunken spree and Mom urgently needing a place to take care of her gravely ill cancer-stricken teenage son (not to mention two daughters) there wasn't much time to house-hunt. Now the past is starting to catch up with the present and the Campbell's face terrifying ghostly visitors at just about every turn.
WHO'S IN IT?
At the center of this nightmare Virginia Madsen (Sideways) is well-cast as the rock-solid mom who has to contend with a weak hubby sickly son and a new house seemingly populated by the dead! Madsen once dealt with Candyman so this haunted mansion should be a snap. As Matt her son with a rare usually fatal cancer Kyle Gallner redefines intensity spending the bulk of the movie fighting demons of every kind — including his own. Amanda Crew plays it by the numbers as daughter Wendy the type of movie character that likes exploring dark deserted rooms late at night. Martin Donovan is given the thankless role of the alcoholic father while Elias Koteas is laughable as a Reverend who tries to battle the home's devilish spirits and seems to be channeling Father Merrin from The Exorcist.
Besides Madsen? Not much. But at least this is one horror film based in some semblance of reality with the cancer plotline adding a layer of credibility not found in today's usual brand of torture porn.
In taking its inspiration from countless psychological '60s classics like The Haunting and The Innocents to the more vivid terrors of The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist it only serves to point up this incarnation's inadequacies. There are a few scares but they are all produced by predictably quick editing and heightened music cues designed to give the audience a momentary rush and not much else.
The unintentionally funny sequence when the family first discovers their new dream house may not have been such a good deal after all. It's even more terrifying than a sub-prime mortgage!
Looking like something that might have been made 50 years ago there is nothing even remotely “new” about New in Town. Lucy (Renee Zellweger) is a big-city Miami career woman sent by her company to check out a small town Minnesota plant and devise a plan to downsize it. Almost immediately she locks heads with the local Union rep Ted (Harry Connick Jr ) and further alienates the folksy employees who “all tawk like theeese doncha know” by instituting firings and a new streamlined work ethic. Things get dicey when initial conflict turns into romance (surprise!) between Ted and Lucy and her bosses inform her she must shut down the entire plant putting everyone out of work. In the right role Zellweger can be compellingly offbeat. Not here. She’s not miscast but woefully lacking any kind of chemistry with Connick Jr. who played the same kind of role on Broadway in The Pajama Game and seems to be going through the motions this time and without the songs. Particularly painful are moments when Zellweger tries way too hard to be funny giving us the “ick” factor instead. The banter between the pair could have come out of any ‘30s screwball comedy updated with all the comic panache of a low-rent sitcom. Considering the film represents Danish director Jonas Elmer’s American debut and because we think of ourselves as a kind and understanding critic we can chalk up its shortcomings to translation problems. Oh … plus a total and complete lack of invention and originality. What is supposed to be a light fluffy comedy is shot in such a dark and dreary style that it’s downright depressing. Minnesota’s tourism office should sue.