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An American Haunting (2005)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate Unrated)
Genres:
Horror, Period Film, Supernatural Horror
Director:
Courtney Solomon Courtney Solomon
Starring:
Donald Sutherland Donald Sutherland
Sissy Spacek Sissy Spacek
James D'Arcy James D'Arcy
Rachel Hurd-Wood Rachel Hurd-Wood
Matthew Marsh Matthew Marsh

5.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: May 17, 2006
Mainstream horror has seen a lot of hits and misses over the years. One of the latest trends has been to take 'true stories' and turn them into accessible horror pictures. The only problem is that the more accessible they become, the less 'truthful' they become in their depictions. "An American Haunting" is the latest horror film to be based on true events, these involving the infamous Bell Witch, one of the most popular haunted destinations in the world. Bell, Tennessee, is consistently known as the scariest location in the United States and tourists flock there on a yearly basis to see the location where the events depicted in this film supposedly took place. "An American Haunting" takes the tale of the Bell Witch, spices it up with some amazing actors, and then takes all the cliches and stereotypes from horror movie past and creates quite possibly the most miserable horror experience in years. This was a film that makes you ache. You wonder how anyone could have watched the finished product and thought it fit for mass distribution. Alas, as I write this, I am fully aware that the film has already grossed around $10 million and will likely hit the $20 million mark before its box office run comes to an end. This means it will show a profit. Watch out for the sequel.

The story of the Bell Witch has one primary claim to fame - the only reported case where a spirit caused the death of a man. One day, out of the blue, John Bell (Donald Sutherland) and his family are attacked by an evil, vicious entity that does everything from slap them around to chant their names in the night. Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is most savagely victimized by the spirit, and her life is turned into a nightmare. No one knows what has brought these attacked forth, though John Bell believes he has been cursed by a local witch whom he wronged in a land dispute. Sissy Spacek stars as Lucy Bell, the mother of the family, who just wants to protect her daughter to the best of her ability. James D'Arcy is Richard Powell, the local school teacher who is skeptical of the claims at first, until he experiences the wrath of the spirit firsthand. Powell and Betsy have an odd relationship that extends beyond student and teacher - almost romantic, but not quite. Almost all of the film takes place inside the Bell home, with various encounters with the spirit. The ending of the picture, however, is so unsatisfactory that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth that sticks for a while. What also proves unfortunate is that the film ends with the least truthful aspect of the whole ordeal.

There are certain aspects of the film that are to be appreciated. This film was the last work of the amazing cinematographer Adrian Biddle, and he certainly does some creative things. The Bell House is filmed in a way that really brings out the dread and the doom in the story. The exterior shots and the sequences at night are brilliantly and beautifully photographed, especially the sequence where Sutherland and his son go out looking for a wolf. I also enjoyed the carriage chase sequence which ends with the carriage flipping in mid-air and landing back the way it came. That one sequence was probably responsible for a majority of the budget. I also thought the film did a great job with the period costuming and dialect. Some have had problems with the language and the dialect of the actors, but I found it wholly credible by most, especially Sutherland and D'Arcy. You also have to appreciate the fine work put in by both Donald Sutherland Sissy Spacek. They are not the kind of actors you would figure for roles like these, but they handle the material admirably, even though they are essentially sleepwalking through paychecks. I found Sutherland especially powerful as father John Bell. He looks to be investing far more passion into the role than he should be.

As for the bad - and, oh, how there is bad - the ending is the single worst part of the film. What we are led to believe is a genuine haunting turns out to be the tortured soul of a girl who was sexually molested by her father? Give me a break. I know all about the Bell Witch story and that has never been proven by anyone, only speculated. And, all of the material I have researched led me to believe that it was nothing but rumor. John Bell loved his daughter. And, even if he didn't, the fill does not do an accurate job of showcasing the different sides of John Bell - not enough to let us accept that ending with anything other than hostility. And what was the point of the bloody sheets out of nowhere? Tasteless and unnecessary. I also disliked the way in which the haunting itself was handled. How many times must we watch creepy little dead kids walk around before it loses its shock value. I also disliked the insane number of times we hear the door creak and watch it slowly open. It would seem like these spirits could find a better way of getting attention.

With all of that said, "An American Haunting" is an unfortunate attempt to tell a very captivating story. Director Courtney Solomon fails miserably. The only redeeming qualities of the film are the impressive cinematography from Adrian Biddle and the performance of Donald Sutherland. Everything else is just so-so or terrible. The film leads you to the point where you are willing to accept any scenario as the source of the haunting - any scenario other than the one they hand you. That ending is disrespectful to the actors in the roles, the audience watching it unfold, and the countless individuals who would argue tooth and nail that it is untrue. There is no concrete proof that John Bell ever molested his daughter. To insinuate such a thing is shameful, and it really turns the film into somewhat of a joke. Oh, and the modern day stuff was pitiful. Just pitiful.

3.5/10.
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Tristan #1: Tristan - added 09/14/2006, 08:41 PM
Maybe the worst movie I've seen all year. And I really mean that.
Crispy #2: Crispy - added 02/01/2007, 03:03 AM
Meh, personally I liked it. I don't know how it related to real world happenings, but taking the movie for itself, the biggest thing that bugged me was the hauntings got pretty repetetive towards the end of the movie.
Shakes #3: Shakes - added 12/13/2008, 08:17 PM
I live in Tennessee and grew up hearing all the stories so I decided to give this a shot. This movie had its moments (very few) but overall it was a pretty lousy viewing experience. The ending was truly awful. 4/10
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