An American Haunting

Starring: Donald Sutherland and Rachel Hurd-Wood
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 28 September 2006

In 1817, local landowner John Bell finds himself in the magistrate's court accused of renting land at twenty percent over the odds, which is against church law. However, the aggrieved woman receives no recompense as it is believed the taint on John's name is punishment enough. The woman, long thought to be a witch, puts a curse on John and his happy family. As soon as spring arrives the following year things begin to go seriously wrong. John is plagued with visions of an attacking wolf, and his daughter, Betsy, begins to have contact with a seemingly innocent little girl, who turns out to be less than benevolent. Each night Betsy is violently attacked by an angry spirit, and when John attempts to intervene he is beset too. When Betsy becomes increasingly removed from her normal state, and John himself becomes desperately ill, he visits the witch woman to plead with her. But the woman insists she has not cursed him, he has cursed himself. They will find the cause closer to home, and even John's wife Lucy discovers she is more than simply a witness to events...

This story is based on the novel The Bell Witch - An American Haunting by Brent Monahan, which is itself said to be based on true events. Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek and James D'Arcy star, so it's no surprise this is competently acted. Having said that, this is a tale long in the telling.

Scenes are significantly overextended, so that any tension is lost by hanging around with the camera too long. There is a sort of introduction and epilogue that loosely links the near present with events from the past, but as both add up to no more than five or ten minutes together they have the effect of being completely extraneous.

The special effects are low key, with gas taps obviously being utilised to make the open fires flare-up, and when Betsy is being dragged across the floor by the unseen entity, she is filmed from the elbow down so that you really don't see what member of the crew is pulling her. It sounds like I hated this film; it certainly serves its purpose, but the script could have been tightened to comfortably be told in a fraction of the running time. So this is average film fodder which will better serve a mainstream audience with no preconceptions. Any horror buff isn't going to be taken in or entertained by this for a minute.

What I really did hate was the check disc I was given to review the film on. There are no menus on it, no settings and no extras; and with the time elapsed clock constantly above the picture, and the recurrent appearances of the Lionsgate warnings actually in the picture, watching An American Haunting for review was a less than enjoyable experience. If reviewers are not treated with respect, how can they in turn be expected to show the product any respect?

Ty Power

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