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An American Haunting
UKScreen Rating:

An American Haunting – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

When a young girl finds a decades-old broken doll in the attic, spooky things start happening.
Flashback to the early 1800s, and the Tennessee home of farmer John Bell (Sutherland).
After he is successfully sued by the old hag next door, she curses him and his family.
Rumour has it that she’s a witch, and soon, the house starts creaking, doors start slamming, candles extinguish themselves, and John’s daughter Betsy (Hurd-Wood) starts showing all the usual symptoms of demonic possession: screaming, weird voices, having the bedclothes mysteriously pulled off, being covered in bruises and of course, floating in the air.
This is the telling of the supposedly true story of the “Bell Witch.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

The film is thoroughly underwhelming – having Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek in leading roles as the parents gives it more gravitas than it deserves. Their performances are fine, the almost monochrome photography conjures up the right mood and it’s moderately interesting to watch the reactions of nineteenth century characters to something that was obviously nothing like as familiar to them as it is to us. But that’s where the positive comments end.
The story and the characters just aren’t interesting enough, and the film feels generally small and cheap.
And if it’s creepy, it’s only because it’s soaked in spooky music and employs all the directing and editing clichés of every ghost film that’s ever come before it. There’s nothing original here.
Mixing supposedly real-life and dream sequences gets confusing, and leads to an unsatisfying denouement.
And given that it’s meant to be a film about an early Nineteenth Century haunting, the idea of book-ending it with modern-day scenes is a complete waste of the film-makers’ money and our time, as we’re not in the present long enough to get to know, like or care about the characters, and they themselves actually have nothing to do with the people we’re following in the flashback.
Last year’s Exorcism of Emily Rose inevitably used many of the same clichés, but found something new to do with them. That too was based on a true story – and a far more interesting, original and thought-provoking one.
If these film-makers thought they were offering us anything we hadn’t seen before, or something we’d actually think was worthy giving up our time to see, I dread to think what possessed them.

opens nationwide 14th April 2006

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