An American Haunting
Haunting is the story of the Bell Witch case in
Tennessee in the early 1800s, one of the most famous hauntings in US history
— to call it a ghost story would be inaccurate,
this family was bedeviled by a poltergeist. The story became so notorious, as the
film points out even before the opening credits, because it is the only time
in history that this kind of phenomena led to the death of one of the haunted.
This story is legendary,
and films have been made about it before — in fact two times in just the
last two years with Bell Witch Haunting in 2004 and Bell Witch:
The Movie in 2005. Most people, myself included, have never seen
those two tiny indie productions, though, so An American Haunting is
really not in competition with those.
The story is about a family
named the Bells. The family patriarch John Bell (Donald
Sutherland) was found guilty of usury against a local woman who was rumored
to be a witch. When the woman does not get what she considers fair
reimbursement, she puts a curse on him and his young
daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and mysterious events start happening in their
house, escalating in violence and horror until the entire family is
terrorized. Bell's wife (Sissy Spacek) and son (Thom Fell) are mostly
unscathed, but still are horrified witnesses to the brutality in the
farmhouse. A local preacher (Matthew Marsh) and schoolteacher (James
D'Arcy) also try to help the clan to make sense of the mysterious goings on.
The casting here is
impeccable — you don't expect to find Academy Award caliber actors like
Sutherland and Spacek in horror movies and their presence gives the more
predictable sections a gravity that lesser actors could not pull off.
Also impressive are the young stars — both Hurd-Wood and D'Arcy have a
wonderful feel for period drama, as also evidenced in their past roles — Hurd-Wood played Wendy in the recent remake of Peter Pan, D'Arcy was
in Master and Commander.
It is kind of nice to find
a supernatural story that doesn't make up its own rules of haunting like
recent attempts like The Grudge and Dark Water. Every
once in a while An American Haunting falls into the traps of modern
horror — a few too many layered dream sequences, a few too many fast cuts,
a few too many red herring scares. However, An American Haunting
knows how poltergeists behave (and what they don't do) and is not going to throw
the kitchen sink in just because it may be scary.
Even the ending — which is
a bit out of character with the rest of the film — does come from a
knowledge of the supernatural and the case, and has long been considered one of the
possible solutions for this unsolved mystery. (Granted, it is
probably one of the more sensational possibilities...) This conclusion
does have the unfortunate side effect of making some of the things which happened earlier in the film make less sense plotwise than
it would have seemed before this theory was offered, but the whole
point of a story of haunting is that it couldn't possibly seem sensible.
However, the final deciding factor for any
horror story is simply this — did it give you the chills and make you jump
in your seat? In that matter, An American Haunting is a
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Posted: April 27, 2006.