An American Haunting (1997)

   
Produced & Directed by: Courtney Solomon

Written by:
Brent Monahan & Courtney Solomon

Starring:


Donald Sutherland.... John Bell
Sissy Spacek .... Lucy Bell
James D'Arcy .... Richard Powell
Richard Hurd-Wood .... Betsy Bell / Entity Voice
Matthew Marsh .... James Johnston
Thom Fell .... John Bell Jr.

Release Date: AFI Film Festival: November 5, 2005; Nashville Film Festival: April 20, 2006; Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival: April 21, 2006; Limited Theatrical: April 20, 2007 (Mexico)

*Images courtesy at: www.cinempire.com

Rating:

 

During present day a teenager has nightmares about evil hauntings while her mother reads an old letter from her ancestor Lucy Bell (Sissy Spacek) in 1817 as there was a dispute between lands that Lucy's husband John (Donald Sutherland) won over at their church.
The other resident who lost this battle named Kathe Batts (Gaye Brown) was outraged by this and swears that they will be cursed as she has a fame of being a witch.
While hunting, John is nearly attacked by a pack of wolves plus his family is threatened by strange sounds and going on's in their house.
Suddenly an evil spirit attacks John and Lucy's eldest daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) as she is mysteriously slapped and dragged around as well as having horrible nightmares.
Betsy's schoolteacher Richard Powell (James D'Arcy) tries to help out with this problem by finding rational explanations for the cause of this and brings a group of people to try to exorcise the house and to protect her but nothing seems to work.

 

There's a good beginning with a girl named Betsy Bell running through the wooded snowy area which seems mysterious and impressive making you wonder what she's running away from especially that she's wearing her nightgown in which happened to be a nightmare she was having. Definetely a perfect traditional start to a horror flick for sure.
There's a nice peaceful situation with the family and freiends celebrating Christmas as well as being under a mistletoe bringing a nice heartwarming uplifting feel to the story before the dark terrors start to occur as well as focusing a situation on a fireplace before a spooky scene starts to happen in the film adding good flavor here.
There's also a nice intense moment during a court case which involves a character named Kathe Batts who loses her case and speaks wickedly and vengeful towards a family man named John. While watching this definetely looked pretty intimadating and gives you a creepy feeling that terrible things will happen to this family which leaves more suspenseful situations here wanting for for and making you keep on watching to see what happens next in the later scene's here.
Nice moments with Betsy scared of her room telling her parents on sounds and things happening in there which seems to make you think that a possession here will soon happen along with great creepy shots on the covers of her bed rolling off of her as well as dragging her. This was very imaginative for any child who is scared to sleep in the dark thinking that this could happen to them.
A perfect dark scene for all you horror fans to watch is when John is out in the misty snow with his rifle and some object walks opast him in the distance and then a great jumping scene when he spots a vicious bloodthirsty wolf about to attack him and he is firing his rifle but then this beast disappears which is a true great ghostly moment here and very spooky as well as enjoyable.
We also spot a nice scene with a camera shot rolling around Betsy on a swing and spotting this little girl without her face being revealed and she stares mysteriously at her in which we are supposed to wonder why she is looking at her and then later on realising that she is alone with no one around her in which this gives the situation a good spooky feel to all of this.
There's also a pwerect intense moment when Betsy is dragged from her bed and rising in the air with a force smacking her constantly in the face in which this looked truly disturbing to watch as to why this is all happening towards her. Everyone's reactions was pretty good by trying to stop this force.
There's a cheesy situation however with James Johnston performing a ceremony to talk to the spirits in which this doesn't look dark enough like it should and almost done in a way like a TV movie fashion especially having thunder and lightning happening with this which isn't too convincing either. Yet it can be looked as cheesy but fun to watch within all of this.
There's evena situation with Betsy sleeping in her classroom and when school is over for the day and a friend of hers wakes her up telling her about their activity she goes ballistic towards him in which this also looked well written and disturbing as to just doing that to someone who is trying to be a good friend. Perfect signs that this child is possessed.
Things seems even more impressive when Betsy is screaming in her sleep and her younger sister tries to tell her that she's having a nightmare but terrifying things seem to surround her and she wants to get out of the room which was shown in a nice style here.
Everything looked fast paced and full of action and excitement when we spot Richard driving his horses in a carriage with Betsy sick sleeping and then a vicious wolf tries to run along by attacking the horses in which this looked like a total attention grabber especially with the good camera shots here. Also some nice struggling moments on the carriage crashing into a fallen tree as well as a person struggling against the wolf. What was a perfect teaser here was that there's good effects later on focusing on Betsy in bed in which leaves an impression that she was having another nightmare. This was done in terrific style.
A nice coldness to the story when John tries to plead towards Kathe at her cabin in which this looked still and sharp by how their discussions were which looked perfectly added in here especially when she tells him what the family have done to have all of this happening to them.
Perfect shots on John out in the misty wooded area choking and coughing in which the events here looked good and still.
There's great suspenseful special effects with a camera shot closing in on Lucy as well as suspenseful objects and fire surrounding the area which certainly disturbs the silence of this chjaracter as she was sitting peacefully outside. All of this looked fun to watch.
More creepy and terrifying moments with the sheets by themselves pulling up on Betsy as well as revealing a creepy hand touching her face as this showed nice creepy and haunting like timing here.
Bottom line is that this was a very different style of a horror film mixed with drama and very original too based on true events. Certain moments seem to pay a tribute the The Exorcist but in a good way.
Sometimes the story is a bit slow but the performances were dynamic as it earned 3 bats for that.
It does make you cringe wondering if this can happen to your family if someone wants to get even with you.

The acting is extremely great as we get a nice performance by Donald Sutherland (John Bell) as an aggressive father and he knows how to portray a person almost losing his sanity from the madness going on. He also brings a good stern and frgithened attitude too which shines off nicely as well as acting full of life whwnever he needed to behave this way with a good laughing type of behavior. He drew all o f this in superbly too. He was a believeable strict type of family man and had the right looks for this type of role. He does well by acting weak and being sick towards the end of his performance drawing this in perfectly well.
Sissy Spacek (Lucy Bell) is in a horror flick again after Carrie and boy does she ever play a totally different role in this one as a caring and protective mother. She makes you want to help her out with the issue going on she pulls this role so well but of course she is brilliant alltogether in any show she does. She shows a believeably motherly type of behavior with a nice calm atttiude along with showing a nice emotional type of behavior when the drama starts with her whole family showing off a good tense type of energy here along with a good powerful voice when she had to do this. She also shows good stern and serious expressions too by being like this. This was one of her best performances but I don't think that she'll ever top her part in Coal Miners Daughter.
James D'Arcy (Richard Powell) performs nicely as a school teacher trying to help out the issue and shows great energy. He shows a good serious and concerned type of behavior as well as making his nice and understanding attitude come to life. He focuses in perfectly into his role and really gets into the suspenseful moments when he's around them in which he shows off some nice characteristics here. You can tell that he studied his role with this in a nice good taste here.
Rachel Hurd-Wood
(Betsy Bell) was terrific bringing her character to life and she can really go places with future work.
She does well showing her troubled expressions or whenever she spots something and acts mysterious about it all. Also she knew on how to act frightened in which she acted believeably tense here. Plus she shows a perfect intense screaming whenever a force attacks her or whenever she's possessed really taking it to the extreme big time. Also she does well whenever she acts tireed and very aggressive too showing a great versatality into her role. She was defientely a great choice to play this part.
Matthew Marsh (James Johnston) however seemed to be a bit too wooden in his performance but you can tell that he did the best he can by watching him here. Whenever he did a ceremony he tried to react powerful but yet seemed a little over the top and not convincing at all. But in some other scene's like when he acted lighthearted by playing a game of checkers or enjoying himself it shows off quite well here. So in other words that he was just average in her performance but not terrible.

Caine Davidson composes some soft music with chanting sounds for some of the quiet moments and has intense scenes for the haunting moments. Along with all of this there's the odd violin moaning sounds which works in splendidly. Also there's more good playful violin music along with deep sounds on trombone playing. Here and there we hear some nice harp plucking too. Not too bad.

John Bell: You were always a sound sleeper.