out of Five
Running time: 91
Disappointing horror film which fails to generate any suspense or horror and is occasionally downright laughable.
What’s it all about?
An American Haunting is set in Tennessee in 1817 and is based on the supposedly true story of the Bell Witch. When John Bell (Donald Sutherland) is cursed by a local woman, strange things start happening to him and his teenage daughter, Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood).
Initially, the spooky occurrences are limited to weird noises in the house, but the entity gets more and more violent and only seems to attack the father and daughter, while the mother (Sissy Spacek) and older brother (Thom Fell) can only watch in horror.
Various attempts at exorcism are performed by both a local reverend (Matthew Marsh) and a schoolteacher (James D’Arcy) but nothing seems to work and the poltergeist keeps getting angrier.
Sutherland and Spacek are always good value and they do the best they can, although you can tell that they’d really rather be somewhere else. However, the stand out is Rachel Hurd-Wood, who gives an impressive performance, despite spending large portions of the film in bed. Hopefully she’ll go on to bigger and better things after this.
The film’s biggest problem is that, like last year’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it comes across as a cheesy rip-off of The Exorcist. Unfortunately, it’s not remotely scary and writer-director Solomon resorts to all sorts of cheap tricks to try and convince us otherwise. That said, the climactic sequence is intriguing, but you can’t help feeling the film would have been more effective if the truth had been revealed from the start.
However, the film’s biggest mistake is to book-end the film with a truly atrocious sequence set in the present day. The ending, in particular, is likely to cause unintentional laughter.
In short, this is a disappointing film that could easily have been a lot better. Rent The Exorcist again instead.