Published on April 14th, 2006 | by Chris Evans0
An American Haunting
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Thom Fell, Matthew Marsh
This formulaic horror movie mirrors its predecessors, The Ring and The Village, with scary girls in white gowns and long hair, and chase scenes through the woods, without ever establishing an image of its own.
Based on a true story of The Bell Witch of Tennessee, American Haunting is about a wealthy family living in the nineteenth century who are tormented by a spirit. The father, John Bell (Donald Sutherland) and daughter, Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) are the chief targets of the spirits’ attacks, which are relentless over a four year period.
John and Betsy spend the entire length of the film trying to understand why the spirit has chosen them; first blaming the witch from next door, before unravelling a more sinister explanation.
The supporting cast all chip-in with the staple horror movie characters and stupid lines. Sissy Spacek as the helpless mother, James D’Arcy as Professor Powell refusing to believe that spirits exist and repeatedly churning out the line “there must be a rational explanation for this” in an annoying accent. John Bell junior, played by Thom Fell, runs around like a headless chicken, and Matthew Marsh plays the drunken reverend James Johnston who fails to ward off the spirit with mumblings from the bible.
All in all this is a film that fails to take the horror genre to new levels, but instead relies on the tick-box approach, playing it safe with tried and tested scare scenes using loud violin music and jerky camera movements.
There are apparently 35 books that have been written about this ghostly experience in Tennessee, including by Bell descendants, but the film is based on super natural thriller writer Brent Monahan’s modern day interpretation entitled The Bell Witch – An American Haunting.
Monahan claims that having read all the other accounts, what was left for him was something like “trying to look at a christmas tree beneath ornaments, tinsel and lighting”. This is a very apt description of how I felt when trying to watch the film beneath a lightweight story, poor dialogue and lifeless characters.
The spirit is the only thing that comes out of this film with its reputation unscathed, proving that you don’t need to be seen to have great screen presence.