|American Haunting, An
2006 - PG-13 - 91 Mins.
|Director: Courtney Solomon
|Producer: Christopher Milburn, André Rouleau and Courtney Solomon
|Written By: Brent Monahan and Courtney Solomon
|Starring: Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood, James D'Arcy and Matthew Marsh
|Review by: Bill King
|Official Site: www.anamericanhauntingonline.com/
There are three or four scenes in 'An American Haunting' that show little Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) being bitch-slapped repeatedly by a ghost. This was one of the rare moments when I completely identified with a movie character, because I knew exactly how she felt during these and other endless scenes of abuse, torture and screaming. Watching this wretched ghost story is like watching a remake of 'Mommie Dearest,' but this time the Mommie is an evil spirit and there are no wire hangers present.
I told them I was allergic to feathers
The main plot is bookended by a framing story that adds absolutely nothing to the film. It takes place in the present day and involves the descendents of a terrified family, but you can just forget about all that and focus your attention on the events from 1817 . It is here that director Courtney Solomon, who's been in hiding since 2000's 'Dungeons and Dragons,' subjects us to a rip-off of 'The Exorcist,' but without the drama and vomit of that William Friedkin masterpiece. Rather than a challenging film about faith and family, we get a thoroughly unpleasant barrage of child abuse, all for the sake of shock value. Solomon thinks that if you see Hurd-Wood scrape the floor with her fingernails enough times, then you'll walk away convinced this is a worthy psychological horror film.
After overtaxing a member of the community, John Bell (Donald Sutherland) is the victim of a witch's curse. Within days, an unseen entity breaks into the Bell home to wreak havoc on his daughter Betsy. The local church leader and school teacher are invited to the house to spend the nights, but their efforts are useless as the ghost swoops by them all and shuts the door so it can go about its business with Betsy. Not even taking the girl away from the house protects her, because the ghost -- in the one good shot in the whole film -- can track her down with a fury.
The plotting follows a simple pattern, from which the film eventually deviates because there is such a thing as a running time. Betsy gets her hits at night, she sees things during the day, her family stays up late to defend her, and the preacher tries to give his best impression of Father Merrin. The ending makes some ridiculous revelations about the truth of Betsy's abuse and the real nature of the ghost/poltergeist. It does so in a confusing way that ties nothing together. Previous scenes showing that clearly there is a ghost are contradicted by the perpetrator's supposed identity. None of it comes together in any cohesive manner. The ending looks like a rushed job and, as a result, the final scenes only add more mystery rather than solve anything. The framing story gets its justification, in a way, but that's only if the conclusion of the flashback sequences can actually come together, and it doesn't.
The movie did not receive a proper press screening for critics, which right there tells you a lot about the confidence the studio had in this. It's getting to the point now where enough movies are bypassing the screening process that video stores can create a special section just for them. 'An American Haunting' says it is based on a true story, and that this version is one of the many variations of the Bell Witch legend from early 19th-century Tennessee. Maybe one of those other versions would have made a better movie.