An American Haunting (2005) Movie Review
Written By: YN
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: Courtney Solomon
Producers: Courtney Solomon, Christopher Milburn and André Rouleau
Writers: Courtney Solomon
Date Released: November 5, 2005
Donald Sutherland as John Bell
Sissy Spacek as Lucy Bell
James D’Arcy as Richard Powell
Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell / Entity Voice
Rating = 2/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
In present times, a mother confiscates an old doll and a binder full of letters from her daughter, who claims to have gotten them from the attic. It turns out that the doll used to be Betsy Bell’s, while the letters relay the story of the Bell Witch. It narrates how the youngest, Betsy, was terrorized by a violent spirit for days and nights. As their story unfolds, the mystery of the family’s curse is uncovered, and a long-buried secret is finally unveiled.
An American Haunting (2005) strives to frighten its viewers by literally showing nothing. There is no blood, no gore and no ghostly sightings. Instead, it depicts scenes where Betsy Bell is thrown and dragged around, lifted up by the hair and violated by an invisible entity. There is only the ominous wind, the sudden change in color saturation and the frightened looks on the actors faces to signify that the spirit is there to create some chaos. And when it does try to show something, the scene would be too dark to decipher the shadowy figures. And that’s all there is. Nothing more.
The Grave Review
Contrary to its title, the movie will not be haunting anyone anytime soon. What could have been a refreshing take on the Bell Witch folklore falls flat with its suspense, scares and plot twist. It’s only saving grace is its opening sequence which isn’t all that bad. It may even mislead the viewers into thinking that the film can sustain that much suspense and action. But in the end, it feels more like a family drama instead of a horror film. And even then, the drama may barely alleviate its audience’s disappointment and boredom.
Its attempt to terrify often feels contrived to the point that it ultimately fails. This is mostly because the viewers are never really shown anything close to being terrifying except seeing a girl getting dragged and thrown around her room by an invisible entity. And even that can get too repetitive and boring after witnessing the same thing five or six times.
There are only two scenes that may be considered as tension filled. The first is the opening sequence where a girl is being chased after by something through an eerie, gnarly wood, while the second is on the first night of the “haunting” in Betsy’s room. Both of which only work because they are placed in the beginning of the film where the audience still has no idea where the story is going and the idea of a poltergeist-like spirit is still fresh in their mind. The rest of the “hauntings”, however, are just variations of these two scenes, and thus, losing their impact along the way.
Funny enough even the actors have probably gotten tired of all the screaming and shouting when there really isn’t anything to be frightened of. Betsy (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood) can only take too much beatings from an unidentified spirit before things start to get old. The viewers see it in the way she acts after getting slapped or manhandled in her bed by an invisible force. Instead of looking shaken or terrified out of her mind, her face simply shuts down as if thinking, “not again.” Even the side characters seem inconvenienced by the hauntings since they usually just stand back and watch the scene with an almost blank expression on their faces.
Lastly, what little tension the movie has is often overlooked because the scenes are too dark, and the figures are too difficult to decipher in the gloom. And when the plot twist finally pops in to shake things up a bit, everyone is just too tired (or bored) to be surprised.
With these, An American Haunting (2005) fails to live up to its name, ultimately giving nothing away except for a logical theory behind the Bell Witch legend. It sucks out the horror aspect of the folklore and dulls it into a family drama that just gets too confusing to watch.
For these foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives An American Haunting (2005) two graves out of five graves.
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