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AN AMERICAN HAUNTING creeps up on this viewer!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a review of that Donald Sutherland/Carrie White/Wendy Darling horror movie based on the Bell Witch legend AN AMERICAN HAUNTING. I posted a link to the trailer a little while back, a trailer that I really liked. Now we have a review from when it screened at the AFI Fest. The review has some detail in the setting up of the film, but other than that is fairly spoiler-free. Our reviewer really dug the movie, with some reservations. He calls Rachel Hurd-Wood's performance a "debut" even though she hit pretty big with PETER PAN a couple of years ago, but the real important part of that segment of his review is about her performance. She looks to be in the next generation of really talented kids in the business! I'm really excited to take a look at this flick! Enjoy the review!

Warning: No jizz jokes in this review. I know this is a first for AICN, so brace yourselves.

This weekend I got to attend the World Premiere of An American Haunting at the AFI festival in Los Angeles. Film maker Courtney Solomon was present as were two of the younger actors.

I love horror movies, though I think that an actual frightening movie is hard to pull off. There are only a handful that are actually scary to ol' Nine Fingaz: The Exorcist, The Haunting (Robert Wise version), The Entity to name a few.

Now, I am obsessed with the tale of the Bell Witch. If you haven't read about it, google it. Scary stuff. A bizarre entity invaded the lives of a family in Tennessee in the late 1800's. One man died by the hand of the spirit, and he is the only case in the history of U.S. law to be recognized as having been killed by supernatural events.

There have been two films made from the subject within the last few years, very low budget, and from what I hear not all that bad.

So we come to An American Haunting, which is based on a book about the Bell Witch of the same name.

First off: The director, Courtney Solomon, directed Dungeons and Dragons. So, I had reservations going in.....

NO SPOILERS AHEAD!

I liked, didn't love, but liked the picture, a lot.

Technically, An American Haunting is very well made. Beautiful photography (shot in Romania), excellent acting from the whole cast: Especially Donald Sutherland who seems to be having a lot of fun, and newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood, who plays the daughter afflicted most by the specter.

Anyhow, she's excellent. As good a debut as Bryce Howard in that asstrap "The Village," she ranks up there with the little girl from Audrey Rose in creepy freaked out little girl performances. Great stuff. On a side note, she showed up to the movie dressed like an actual 14 yr. old kid - no short skirts, no belly baring shirts - very refreshing to see a 14 yr. old in Hollywood not dressed like...well, a prostitute.

Is American Haunting scary? Yes. Definitely.

The movie has very few special effects, with no little girls with long black hair, no people crawling on the ceiling, no white faced little boy. It's neither a remake nor a ripoff of an Asian horror movie. That's like an action movie with no wire-fu. Very nice.

John Bell lives with his family and precious daughter Betsy in the rural parts of Tennessee circa 1880. He is accused of usury by the church, and the word around town is that the prosecuting party, Kate Bets, is a witch.

She tells John that he's to be cursed, and soon strange shit starts to happen at the Bell farm.

Noises in the attic, scraping on the walls, sightings of strange beasts on the land.

And slowly, we build up to strange disembodied voices, objects knocked over, windows blown open and finally, actual physical assaults. It makes it all seem very plausible, like if this were to happen in your house, this is more or less how the shit would go down.

The movie has very little blood and gore. It will appeal to the fan of classic horror along the lines of The Haunting. It resides somewhere in that gray region between The Lady in White and The Entity. Somewhere near The Others perhaps, but not as good.

Like the Others, the ending is...interesting. It wouldn't have been my choice, but I'd never seen an ending quite like this in a horror movie. It's definitely an overdue reasoning for poltergeist action.

Whether you'll like it or not will be up to taste.

There are some scary but unnecessary present day scenes book-ending the film, but Solomon did an impromptu poll after the movie, and most people said he should cut them out. It sounded like he was going to take heed in time for the release in January.

Bad parts: James D'arcy stunk.

Some scenes were kinda bizarre and didn't make much sense - sometimes you couldn't tell if certain scenes were meant to be a dream or not, which was THE biggest problem with the film. I think they were going for this sense of, are we dreaming, is this a nightmare, where do my nightmares end and my life begin sort of thing. But it's just confusing. We go zooming into one too many eyes and mirrors.

Another thing I did not like: The POV of the entity is used in the film. Kinda like in Evil Dead, but not as well done. Coulda done without it.

Also: In case the filmmakers read this: I didn't like the echo out of Sutherland's scene alone in the forest. Very silly. His crying was a bit over the top. No one wants to see Donald Sutherland cry. It makes Jesus sad.

One more thing: Have a real editor cut that trailer!!! Jesus, it looks like crap! This could have a fockin' SWEET trailer. Hell I'll cut if for you.

The score is good. Nothing revolutionary here, but an excellent score for this type of movie.

As to audience reaction: I took a peek at the voter results, and on a 1 - 5 scale, I saw a lot of fours, but also a lot of twos. It's not for everyone. It may be a little too tame for some.

It could do some smokin' opening weekend B.O. People are desperate for something scary.

In short: You would shit your pants if you saw this late at night on cable, alone, with the lights out. It's not a classic, but it's not bad, either.

Call me "Nine Fingaz." Google me, bitch!



Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 8, 2005, 2:20 a.m. CST

    by Mavrikfire

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 2:21 a.m. CST

    NOT first.

    by Rearden

    Yeah, take that.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 2:22 a.m. CST

    FIRST

    by Mavrikfire

    FIRSTIES BITCHES!!! This movie looks like an entertaining departure from the norm. Hope for the best!

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 2:22 a.m. CST

    Well, I was first

    by Mavrikfire

    I just didn't post it in the subject line. TAKE THAT

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 2:52 a.m. CST

    Not A Debut...

    by drew mcweeny

    ... see PETER PAN. She was pretty amazing there, too.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 3:24 a.m. CST

    NOT a good movie!!

    by pkwak

    I was also at the screening at the Arclight theaters and I agree with a lot of the reviewers' fault of the film, but to still have called it a good film with those faults is not right because frankly, those faults are so bad in my book. It was trying so hard to be the next great American horror film. The music was so redundant and overdone. And yes there WERE little girls with long black hair. The POV of the spirit is the lamest thing I've ever seen. It's also very redundant. The whole dream/nightmare/memory thing...whatever it was...felt so unnecessary and redundant. There's so much redundancy and boredom to this film. The only reason why I jumped at some parts and many times why I do this in horror movies is because of the loud music. Who doesn't jump at sudden bursts of trumpet sounds? And Rachel-Hurd Wood was not that great either. She was much more believable in Peter Pan. She needed a rougher edge to her character and I think her innocence in real life bleeds through too much in her character. There was also a very awkward scene where she does the whole "twitching-I'm possessed-help me" act and the family is just staring and edited in a way that makes them look so careless. I couldn't help but laugh. Her whole twitching thing looked so fake as well. For some reason that moment totally made me picture the director shouting out his commands "scream! shake harder..HARDER!!" And Donald Sutherland can not act in this. Story's pretty weird. For devil's sake....it's the same director as Dungeons and Dragons. He was ranting on to a select few of us outside the theater of the plot points and why people did this and that. No one can possibly know the first viewing. Ok..enough of my ranting. I think with a lot of smart editing, and different choices of music placing, this film can be somewhat good.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 4:15 a.m. CST

    Good cast (though Sutherland, once a bad ass, has recently turne

    by Negative Man

    Courtney-Solomon-Dungeons-and-Dragons.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 5 a.m. CST

    evil dead pov rips and donald sutherland cries.....

    by colonel_lugz

    why would i want to see this, or is that actually a reason to see it?......it sounds pretty bottom of the barrel under achiever to me

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 5:51 a.m. CST

    Could the spirit POV....

    by DocPazuzu

    ...really be worse than the one in Amityville 2?

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 7:43 a.m. CST

    Rachel Hurd-Wood is cute

    by Uncle_Les

    She's the new Emma Watson for TB's of the next century! Peace Out.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 8:57 a.m. CST

    Redundancy

    by jvetoe

    I think its funny that the guy complaining about the redundancy of the movie was redundant about its redundacy.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 10:33 a.m. CST

    Redundancy

    by methical

    I think its funny that the guy complaining about the redundancy of the movie was redundant about its redundacy.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 12:51 p.m. CST

    Good acting? Did Solomon finally go to film school?

    by Durendal

    Seriously, the fuckwit squeezed an unbelievably shitty performance out of EVERYONE in D&D, even Jeremy Irons. If we're seeing good performances here, then he must have either hired on an assistant director to direct the actors or ran off to actually learn how to direct actors.

  • Nov. 8, 2005, 9:09 p.m. CST

    I was shocked that this review started off with a jizz joke.

    by pizzatheface