Home Movie Reviews An American Haunting Movie (2006) Review: ‘Real-Life’ Supernatural Tale Gets Conventional Treatment

An American Haunting Movie (2006) Review: ‘Real-Life’ Supernatural Tale Gets Conventional Treatment

An American Haunting movie with Rachel Hurd-Wood. Based on a purported real-life case about a Tennessee family at odds with a ghostly presence, this technically accomplished horror drama takes the conventional route while mostly wasting its stars.
  • An American Haunting movie (2006) review: Screenwriter, director, and co-producer Courtney Solomon’s Anglo-Canadian-U.S. indie tells a purportedly real-life-inspired ghost story in cliched horror flick fashion.

An American Haunting movie review: Purported ‘true story’ told in conventional + unconvincing fashion

Based on Brent Monahan’s 1997 novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, itself inspired by the purported ghostly apparitions that scared the wits out of the Bell family of Red River, Tennessee, in the early 1800s, Courtney Solomon’s indie horror movie An American Haunting fails to fully exploit its intriguing premise.[1]

This haunted house – or rather, haunted estate – drama features the customary spooky moments, in large part achieved by way of raucous sound effects; eerie cinematography, courtesy of the late Adrian Biddle (Thelma & Louise, V for Vendetta); some competent acting, courtesy of Best Actress Oscar winner Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980), the only American in the cast due to financing restrictions imposed by the film’s British and Canadian backers; and several effective touches by screenwriter, director, and co-producer Courtney Solomon, among them a masterfully handled and edited (by Richard Comeau) horse-carriage crash.

On the downside, An American Haunting is irreparably marred by a superfluous – and preposterous – wrap-around modern-day story that is supposed to mirror the Bells’ “curse,” and by Solomon’s unfocused screenplay. Although the filmmaker strives to add some authentic drama to the Halloween proceedings, he spends considerably more time copying “shocking” scenes from The Exorcist than creating well-rounded characters with compelling interpersonal issues.

The Bell Witch collective

Filmed in Canada and Romania – the latter country passing for the early 19th-century rural American South – An American Haunting kicks off in earnest as small noises are heard around the Bell family farm.

These are followed by several creepy sights: A black wolf with yellow eyes; a strange figure seen at night; a dark, silent girl. As time passes, the Poltergeist-like apparitions – collectively known as the Bell Witch – become louder and more violent, with the Bells’ adolescent daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) as their favorite victim.

Handsome schoolteacher Richard Powell (James D’Arcy) is called in to help, but neither his scientific knowledge nor his infatuation with Betsy can prevent the apparitions from returning and wreak even worse havoc.

It’s no surprise when the Bells are told that one of them is about to die.

Family curse?

Ruling patriarch John Bell (Donald Sutherland) believes the ghosts are the result of a curse inflicted upon the family by a woman with whom he had had a land dispute. His submissive wife, Lucy (Sissy Spacek), is at a loss as to what to do.

Eventually, little pieces start falling into place to reveal who/what is behind the apparitions – and why.

Unfortunately, this final revelation comes too late – and feels a tad too lazy – to inject An American Haunting with the sort of psychological undercurrent that propelled to a higher cinematic realm Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and Robert Wise’s The Haunting.[2]

An American Haunting (2006) cast & crew

Director: Courtney Solomon.

Screenplay: Courtney Solomon.
From Brent Monahan’s 1997 novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting.

Cast: Donald Sutherland. Sissy Spacek. James D’Arcy. Rachel Hurd-Wood. Matthew Marsh. Thom Fell. Zoe Thorne.

Cinematography: Adrian Biddle. Film Editing: Richard Comeau. Music: Justin Caine Burnett (as Caine Davidson). Production Design: Humphrey Jaeger. Producers: Christopher Milburn, André Rouleau, and Courtney Solomon.

Runtime: 83 min.

Country: United Kingdom | Canada | Romania | United States.

Related Films: The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005). The Changeling (1980). The Entity (1982). The Haunting (1963, 1999). The Innocents (1961). The Legend of Hell House (1973). The Nightcomers (1971). The Others (2001). Poltergeist (1982, 2015). The Shining (1980). The Uninvited (1944). The Watcher in the Woods (1980, 2017).


An American Haunting Movie (2006)” notes

Unholy spirit

[1] The Bell Witch apparitions were supposedly recorded between 1817 and 1821. According to An American Haunting’s production notes, they were “validated by the State of Tennessee as the only case in U.S. history where a spirit or entity caused the death of a human being.”

But is that so?

In Grady Hendrix’s Slate.com March 2006 article “Little Ghost on the Prairie: An American Haunting is definitely not based on a true story,” the author affirms:

As for the movie’s claim that the story is “… validated by the State of Tennessee as the only case […],” I assume they’re talking about the record of John Bell’s death, and that is inarguable. Yes, John Bell did die. So did pretty much everyone else who was born in 1750. He was also a human male. Beyond that, the State of Tennessee is silent.

Psychological horror

[2] Both The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963) are British-made, female-focused horror dramas: The former stars Deborah Kerr, the latter stars Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.


Endnotes

An American Haunting movie reviewed at the AFI FEST (website).

An American Haunting movie cast and crew info via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.

Rachel Hurd-Wood An American Haunting movie poster image: Allan Zeman Productions | Freestyle Releasing.

An American Haunting Movie (2006) Review: ‘Real-Life’ Supernatural Tale Gets Conventional Treatment” last updated in June 2021.

5 comments

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped, and, if we deem appropriate, reported. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.

5 comments

hp -

so like when the hauntings accured why is it that everyone desides to remain so quiet about it , us rednecks like a little action and thats also what we expect and that haunting to me sounds pretty low down to the red clay FAKE!!!

Reply
cha -

,.hi!!i just watched peter pan awhile ago.then i become addicted to it that’s why i’m surfing the internet all about peter pan..i really like the part when you kissed peter!!GOSH..I PLAYED IT SLOWMO AND I KEEP ON REPEATING THAT PART!!peter’s smile is amazing and really seductive!!

Reply
lavinia -

hi!i`m Lavinia and i live in Romania.What was it like kissing Jeremy Sumpter??? you are a very pretty girl,and an amazing actress.good lock!!

Reply
diana -

What was it like kissing Jeremy Sumpter? He is pretty cute don’t you think?
Any way i hope you reply that would be wicked.
Do you like peter pan(jeremy)

Reply
Courtney Nicholas-Murphy -

Hey Rachel! you were awsome in Peter Pan and you know what? as in i’m writing this i am watching Peter Pan. And next time you are in a movie can you get me a part? What was it like kissing Jeremy Sumpter? He is pretty cute don’t you think?
Any way i hope you reply that would be wicked.

Cya xx

Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Read More