Saturday, May 06, 2006

REVIEW: An American Haunting

WARNING: The following ultra-negative comments about this film MAY indirectly spoil one or more of it's twists for you. If you find this is indeed the case, please take solace in the fact that watching the first five minutes of THE ACTUAL MOVIE will ALSO indirectly give away all the twists. That is all.

Good LORD.

Is it really this hard to make a decent ghost movie anymore? Really?

Here's another PG-13 "horror" offering where a concerned family huddles in the living room night after night trying to figure out a way around the invisible "entity" that's been nightly visiting, pummelling and (apparently) raping their teenaged daughter. Eventually, bad goes to worse, the "ghost" names a new target, etc., etc. There's some novelty with setting all this in Puritan-era New England, a big ol' twist as to "what's really going on" that anyone slightly familiar with genre cliches will pick up right away, a "modern day" framing device that exists ONLY to provide a cheap-o secondary twist, ONE standout sequence involving a carriage "chase" and the whole thing flat-out SUCKS.

The "true story" this hogwash is supposedly based on is the "Bell Witch Haunting," a series of phenomena plaguing a Tennesse family in the 1800s. The film calls it "the only case in American history where a spirit caused the death of a person," which is dubious at best. The film here omits and fractures nearly all of the "true" story, reworking it into the format of a standard-issue haunting/posession flick: The Bells (Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek) have a sour business dealing with the local would-be "Witch," and soon their teenaged daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood from "Peter Pan") is getting smacked around and violated by something unseen night after night. Oh, and in the daytime she's frequently spooked by the apparition of a little girl with a burned-looking face.

The grownup actors are mostly slumming it, while Wood gets put through the wringer making all Linda Blair-ish in her room while the FX team goes to town with the fishing line used to send papers, bedsheets and stuntpeople flying around the place. Otherwise, it's all about long scenes of checkers and Bible-reading while we wait for stuff to happen, uninteresting business that director Courtney Solomon (late of "Dungeons & Dragons") endeavors to make palatable by spinning the camera-dolly around and around and around. The big "carriage crash" scene from the trailers provides, just as there, the only moment of innovation or interest.

As for "what's going on," it's annoyingly easy to figure out once you remember that "serious" films don't have the word "American" in their title, much less go to the trouble of recreating Puritan decor, unless their aiming to fire a volley at The Patriarchy. The pitch-dark (and over-used by now) "twist" itself comes off as forced and icky, given the goofiness of the film otherwise, and it's re-emergence as a last-second "booga!" is played in the worst possible taste. Nevermind the fact that HOW this reveal ties-into and "explains" all the supernatural goings-on is damn near the most moronic thing I've seen in a "horror" film in awhile. When we finally see "it," what we get is the lamest "ghost" since the reamke of "The Fog."

This is the kind of weak counter-progamming that largely exists to get clobbered by "Mission: Impossible 3" in ticket sales. This time, it deserves it.