Weekend Review: An American Haunting

A couple of years ago, I reviewed The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Damien noted that the film begged comparisons with An American Haunting. We missed it at the time and forgot about it when we got to the Halloween reviews, so it’s going to be this weekend’s review. The story begins with a frightened girl on a snowy winter’s day.

Title: An American Haunting

Available at Amazon.

Cast and Crew

Director: Courtney Solomon
Writer: Brent Mohahan, Courtney Solomon

Donald Sutherland as John Bell
Sissy Spacek as Lucy Bell
Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell
James D’Arcy as Richard Powell
Gaye Brown as Kathe Batts

Full credits may be found at the imdb


An American Haunting begins and ends in the present, when a girl finds a damaged doll and a musty document in the attic of her house. Most of the film reenacts the contents of the document, a highly fictionalized account of the notorious Bell Witch case of Tennessee (1817-1821).

High Point

The film features some interesting (though often overdone) cinematography that will unnerve many viewers, and some effective use of sound—other than the expected horror-musical soundtrack.

Low Point

The frequent use of “Surprise! That didn’t really happen!” Something particularly outrageous occurs, and we then discover it is a dream or some other form of imaginary sequence. This adds nothing to the film, save confusion.

The Review

Originality: 1/6. I’m less concerned with the fact that this adapts a novel based on a twice-told tale. Rather, I consider this film unoriginal and uninspired because it drags out every cliché from every haunted house and demonic possession film in history– overdone music, banging doors, levitation– and does nothing new with the mix.

Effects 5/6. The film features well-done but generally unimaginative effects.

Story 3/6. The film’s (partial) explanation for the phenomena, first(?) suggested in Monahan’s book, has potential. It loses much of that through the film’s chaotic and often incoherent presentation of the tale.

Acting 4/6. The film casts a number of very good actors, who do the best they can with overwrought parts and frequently incomprehensible motivation. After her initial appearance, Rachel Hurd-Wood, a competent young actress, gets too little to do beyond screaming.

Production 5/6. Technically, this film is very good, and it creates a plausible-seeming reconstruction of a lost, more superstitious era.

Emotional Response 3/6. For the most part, I could not make myself care about these people. The film doesn’t explore their characters adequately, and this represents a huge flaw, given the explanation this film proffers for the Bell Witch haunting.

Overall 4/6. The film has been made well; it just offers too little to make it worth seeing. It’s occasionally suspenseful, too often pointlessly confusing, generally overwrought– but mostly, very dull.

In total, An American Haunting receives 25/42.