An American Haunting
|An American Haunting|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Courtney Solomon|
|Produced by||Courtney Solomon|
|Screenplay by||Courtney Solomon|
|Based on||The Bell Witch: An American Haunting|
by Brent Monahan
|Music by||Justin Burnett|
|Edited by||Richard Comeau|
|Distributed by||Redbus Film Distribution (UK)|
Odeon Films (Canada)
Freestyle Releasing (US)
An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film written and directed by Courtney Solomon and starring Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. The film was previewed at the AFI Film Festival on November 5, 2005 and was released in the UK on April 14, 2006 with follow-up in US theaters on May 5. The film is an international co-production between the United Kingdom, Canada, Romania, and the United States.
The film is based on the novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan. The events in the novel are based on the legend of the Bell Witch. The film switches from the 21st century to the 19th, and features a subplot about a recently divorced mother (Susan Almgren) whose daughter (Isabelle Almgren-Doré) is going through something like the same experience as Betsy Bell.
A terrified young girl runs through the forest and into her house to escape from an unseen threat. When she saw the Bell Witch, a ghost that took the form of a girl with black hair and a white dress, she awakens with a scream. Her mother dismisses it as a dream and reminds her that this is her week to visit her father. She picks up an old, broken doll and asks her daughter where she got it. When the girl answers that she found it in the attic, her mother reminds her that the attic is off-limits and not to go up there again.
The mother goes to her desk and picks up a binder full of old letters, with a note from someone that says they're from an ancestor. The letters appear to be written in 19th-century script.
A young girl and boy run through the woods dressed in early 19th-century garb, and the story moves into that of the Bell Witch. John Bell is taken to church court and found guilty of theft of a woman's land. The church releases him with the verdict that his loss of honor is sufficient punishment. The offended party, Kate Batts, is infamous in the village due to claims of witchcraft.
Strange events begin to occur and John believes that Batts cursed him. Betsy starts to look very sick and the haunting worsens. She falls asleep in school, her attitude towards others changes and she becomes irritable. Her young teacher, Richard Powell, notices the change in her behavior. The Bell family tells him about the strange occurrences and their fears that the cause is paranormal. Powell attempts to prove to them that this is impossible because spirits don't exist. It is implied that Richard is also in love with Betsy.
Determined to convince the family of reality, Richard stays in the Bell home to observe Betsy's behavior. He is proven wrong when he witnesses Betsy dangling off the floor, as if someone is holding her up by her hair.
Betsy is sexually assaulted by the spirit. John loses his sanity and sees many forms into which the Bell Witch has shape-shifted. One of Kate's slaves brings some sheets (that are Betsy's and has her blood from losing her virginity on them) and John's shirt that were found buried on Kate's property. John visits Kate Batts and asks Kate to kill him and remove her curse. She refuses and tells him that he cursed himself. John makes a suicide attempt.
Betsy is struck with a revelation that the attacks on her and her father are caused by a supernatural being who was born out of her innocence. She needed to "remember" that the true cause of her pain is her father's sexual abuse. Lucy, Betsy's mother, has the same revelation because she witnessed the assault. Betsy and Lucy apparently repressed the incident. Betsy poisons her sick, bed-ridden, father with medicine while her mother watches. Later, Betsy is then seen at her father's grave, and she is never haunted again.
In present day, the mother is reading the journal. Her daughter comes to her and says her father has come to take her for their weekend stay. She sends her daughter to her ex-husband, who is waiting outside. Betsy's ghost, which was the Bell Witch's form, suddenly appears and cries "Help her!" The mother realizes Betsy is trying to warn her that something is amiss between her daughter and her ex-husband.
She runs out of her house and catches a glimpse of her daughter's worried face peering out from the window of the car as it drives away. The obvious implication is that the father is sexually abusing her. She runs after her ex-husband's car.
An American Haunting was panned by critics, holding a 38/100 rating on Metacritic, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Rotten Tomatoes reports a 14% rating from 71 reviews; the consensus states: "Well, it looks good. But wasn't it supposed to be scary?"