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An American Haunting Review

By Joe Lozito

The Bell Witch Project

In a blatant attempt to cash in on the surprise success of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose", Hollywood has adapted the story of Tennessee's Bell Witch into a loud, silly movie with the unwieldy title "An American Haunting". Itself the spawn of "The Exorcist", "Emily Rose" was an interesting twist on the hoary possessed teen genre in the way it juxtaposed its story against a courtroom drama. The twist in "An American Haunting" is that it's set in 19th century Tennessee and is, apparently, based on a true story. Other than that though, "Haunting" has little to justify its existence.

Poor, beleaguered Rachel Hurd-Wood plays poor, beleaguered Betsy Bell, daughter of John Bell (Donald Sutherland, yes Donald Sutherland) and devoted wife Lucy (Sissy Spacek, yes Sissy Spacek), a seemingly wholesome family whose secluded farm is terrorized by a particularly rambunctious poltergeist. Each night, Betsy's bedroom is visited by an entity that pulls off her comforter (gasp!), drags her out of bed (no!) and … slaps her around. No, seriously, she's held up by her hair and smacked in the face repeatedly. I'm not expert in the facts of the Bell Witch case, but I would think, even in the 1800s, a plot like this would garner more laughs than chills.

Writer-director Courtney Solomon ("Dungeons & Dragons") pulls out all the stops in order to rings a few scares out of "Haunting", even resorting to snarling wolves and an over-used "ghost cam". You would think, in an era before electricity, it would be easy to generate scares. Apparently not. Luckily for Mr. Solomon, even in the 1800s ghosts relied primarily on loud soundtracks for scares.

The main problem with the film is that there's not much story to tell. "Haunting" feels like one of those movies made from a one-joke "Saturday Night Live" character. Aside from an effective carriage ride through the woods, the film is largely a repetitive series of nightly visitations. The entity re-visits poor Betsy so many times that the old "get out of that house" advice becomes tiresome. At least sleep in a different room!

Mr. Sutherland and Ms. Spacek attempt to add some gravity to the proceedings, looking like refugees from "The Village", and Ms. Hurd-Wood could learn a few things about possession from Linda Blair. In the end though, there's nothing particularly scary or, well, interesting about "An American Haunting". The story of John Bell and his family may make a good ghost story, but as a movie it's frighteningly un-scary.

What did you think?

Movie title An American Haunting
Release year 2006
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Frightfully dull possessed teen film based, it would seem, on the events surrounding Tennessee's Bell Witch.
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