Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, Rachel Hurd-Wood
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
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.