Now when this movie came out, I was really interested in seeing it, mainly because of the legend behind it. See, I grew up in Tennessee and as a kid, I had heard all about the legend of The Bell Witch. It was always one of those stories that parents use to keep their kids in line. Years later, when I was really into reading legends about ghosts and cryptids, I would read about this particular legend. So when a movie came out based on a legend that I have heard about since childhood, there was no way I wasn’t going to go see it. So, without further ado, here is today’s movie, An American Haunting.
The plot: A young girl named Jane is running through the woods, trying to escape from something, only to realize that it is just a dream. After telling her to pack so she can stay with her father, Jane’s mother, Elizabeth, finds some letters written by an ancestor in the 19th century and begins to read them. The letters, written by Lucy Bell begin by talking about her husband John being taken to church court and found guilty of stealing land from his neighbor. When the court decides that the loss of his honor is a fitting punishment, the offended woman Kate Batts, known for practicing witchcraft, places a curse on John Bell and his daughter, Betsy. Soon Betsy begins to look sick and her behavior changes, as shown by her falling asleep in school and becoming more irritable towards other people. Her teacher, Richard Powell, notices the changes and, after speaking with her family, tries to disprove their idea that a spirit is causing this. But when he witnesses Betsy being held above the floor by her hair, he realizes he is wrong. Later, Betsy winds up being raped by the spirit and John begins to see ghosts and become sick. He tries to get Kate to remove the curse but she refuses, saying he cursed himself. Betsy soon figures out that the spirit was her lost innocence and it is trying to get her to remember something. Soon she remembers what that something was; the fact that her father had sexually abused her but she had repressed the memory. Lucy had also repressed the memory when she witnessed the act and when Betsy poisons a bed-ridden John, Lucy does nothing except to watch. The letters end saying that Betsy was never haunted from that day forward. Back in the present day, Elizabeth is startled from her reading of the letters by Jane, saying that her father was there to pick her up. Elizabeth goes outside to say goodbye to her daughter, but when she goes back inside, she is confronted by a spirit telling her to “help her.” When she goes back outside, she notices the worried look on her daughter’s face and, realizing that Jane’s father might already be abusing her, she runs after the car, yelling for them to stop.
An American Haunting was completely panned by the critics, earning only a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The common consensus among the critics seemed to be that for a horror movie, it may have looked good but it lacked the scares. The audiences seemed to be in agreement as it would only make over $29 million off of a $14 million dollar budget.
Ok, As a drama, this is really good. The acting, particularly among Donald Sutherland and Rachel Hurd-Wood, was pretty good. The story itself, while definitely embellishing on the legend, was decent. Actually, let me address something about the writing. Nowhere in the legend was there ever an indication that John Bell molested his daughter. So I felt it stupid that the writers added that part in to make the movie more “dramatic”. The settings and filming were good, keeping things very dark and ominous. But as a horror movie, this definitely was lacking. It really wasn’t that scary of a movie, actually a bit disappointing on that fact. So, a good movie but not a good horror movie.
Rating: 3 out of 5