An American Haunting
Starring:
Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, Rachel Hurd-Wood
Directed By:
Courtney Solomon
Grade
A-

Consider how many recent horror movies have been nothing more than remakes of older films or Americanizations of popular Asian horror films, like Ringu and Ju-On, it's nice to see someone taking on a subject that, to be honest, is untouched. The story behind An American Haunting is based on the documented haunting of the Bell Witch in Tennessee. As the movie tells, it's the only documented haunting that resulted in the death of a living person.

The story finds John Bell in the church court after a disagreement with Kate Batts, who is thought to be a witch. When she doesn't get what she feels is fair, she places a curse on John Bell and his daughter, Betsy. As time progresses, they come under attack from an unseen assailant who makes John sick and beats Betsy. The same assailant begins to mentally wear Betsy down emotionally, leaving her tired and delusional. She begins to see a decayed little girl and is assaulted by sounds and visions.

While most of the movie is told as the events of the past play out, it is broken up with small segments of modern day events. In a Lovercraftian plot device, the story is told as a mother reads papers found in the attic. These parts feel disconnected and completely unnecessary. In fact, if they had cut these parts out and added parts of the legend that didn't make it into the film (like Andrew Jackson's visit), I think the movie would have flowed better. I know the director wanted us to draw some past/present correlation but the present day parts feel tacked on.

From a production level value, this movie does a wonderful job with what it has. Sets and locations all look authentic without being overly flashy. Time-period details are handled excellently. Costumes are also well handled and feel real to the time-period Where the movie does show it's low budget is in the special effects - ghost effects tend to be low budget and old school. Fortunately, this isn't a detriment as the director does a fine job of being elusive with the presence of the ghost. The attacks happen without a lot of flash, but this works nicely to make it feel all the more real.

The cast performs magnificently. Having two such fine performers as Spacek and Sutherland really anchors the fine performances by the cast as a whole. In fact, Sutherland does wonderfully, showing the signs of the haunting as it wears him down. There's a part of the movie where his desperation is evident in the mannerisms of his walk and the mood on his face.

I will have to say that An American Haunting is a refreshing film that shoots some life back into a stale genre. The movie constantly shocks the viewer, throwing events at them at such a powerful pace that only the most hardy will not find a jump or two throughout the film. For those who are interested in true ghost stories, An American Haunting is an especially refreshing offering.

- - Kinderfeld

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