An American Haunting
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Courtney Solomon
with Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood, James D'Arcy, Matthew Marsh, Thom Fell, Sam Alexander, Zoe Thorne, Miquel Brown, Shauna Shim, Lila Bata-Walsh, Howard Rosenstein
release UK 14.Apr.06, US 5.May.06
05/US Redbus 1h31

Something unholy: Hurd-Wood

sutherland spacek d'arcy

An American Haunting Although he bases this film on the true story of the Bell Witch, writer-director Solomon simply can't generate any actual suspense. But he certainly tries.

In Tennessee in late-1817, the Bell family start hearing strange noises in their home, then scary things start happening, mostly to the father, John (Sutherland), and teen daughter Betsy (Hurd-Wood), while mother (Spacek) and older brother (Fell) look on helplessly. A local reverend (Marsh) and the schoolteacher (D'Arcy) try to help, but the entity just gets more violent and threatening, and no one knows why or what to do about it.

There's potential for a fascinating film here, but Solomon (who's two for two after the dire Dungeons & Dragons) tries far too hard to bend the events into a slick horror movie. And the result is a corny, repetitive Exorcist wannabe that feels increasingly desperate to frighten us. But there's nothing in the script that's remotely scary, so he resorts to tired and painfully annoying movie tricks like loud noises, thunderstorms, disorienting camera work (including inexplicable drifting from colour to black and white) and, most frequently, shrieking chords of music.

The cast seem almost like they're actually being haunted by a bad moviemaker, not a poltergeist. Poor Hurd-Wood is required to mope and pout and pant and writhe, and little else. D'Arcy manages to maintain his dignity even with the film's creepiest role--as a 30-year-old in love with a teenager. Sutherland and Spacek are good enough to sustain their characters, but even they seem to be merely enduring each scene.

From the very beginning we can feel Solomon straining to create something terrifying and memorable, and failing at every turn. The framing sequences are inexplicably silly (what teen girl would have a Charlize Theron in Monster poster above her bed?) and loaded with cliches (vodka-swilling mother, secrets in the attic, cracked-face doll). And it doesn't get better when we move back to the 19th century. Instead of creating real tension, Solomon just gets bigger and louder ... and unintentionally ridiculous. At least the final revelations are intriguing and revealing. But by then it's far too late.

cert 15 themes, violence 19.Jan.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... An American Haunting Rachel, Swansea, South Wales: 1.5/5 "I totally agree. Instead of trying to engage the audience with an interesting plot and clever dialogue, the film seems more intent on trying to make the audience jump as much as possible, with boo!-scared-you! moments appearing left right and centre. Terrible film, watch at your own risk!" (21.Apr.06)

ted, uk: 5/5 "i think that this film is a great film, because it has many good scenes that show the audience that its interesting." (2.Dec.07)

2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall