In 2006, in Red River, Tennessee, a teenager has frequent nightmares. Her mother reads an old letter from 1817 written by her ancestor, Lucy Bell. After a dispute of lands judged by the church, her husband John Bell is cursed by his opponent Kathe Batts, who has a fame of being a witch. From this moment on, an entity threatens John and her daughter Betsy Bell, attacking the girl during the nights. With the support of Betsy's school teacher Richard Powell, who tries to find rational explanations for the manifestation; her brother John Bell Jr.; and their friend James Johnston, who unsuccessfully tries to exorcize the entity from the house, the family does their best to protect Betsy in the haunted house. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The movie is actually based on a purportedly true story. Andrew Jackson was quoted as saying, "I would rather take on the entire English Fleet than stay one night at the Bell House," however his presence at the house is disputed and there are no official records that confirm he was actually present or witnessed any supernatural activity. The haunting is documented in M. V. Ingram's 1894 book, An Authenticated History of The Famous Bell Witch. This movie was based on the book by Brent Monahan,The Bell Witch: An American Haunting the Famous Bell Witch. However, the Ingram book has been called into question by researchers, who have noted that it's based on secondhand accounts and that no firsthand accounts to the haunting survive, and records from the time have not supported the story of the haunting. The Ingram book calls on quotes from letters and diaries but those documents no longer exist (if they ever did) and it is impossible to verify if the haunting actually happened or if it was a hoax or an early urban legend. Some researchers have even raised the possibility that the Ingram book was actually a work of fiction now mistakenly believed to be a factual account. See more »
Right after John Bell gets knocked out by the door slamming shut, the "spirit" re-opens the door. A hand can be seen quickly pulling away from the knob on the other side. See more »
Things that go bump in the night...scary but pointless...
Whatever possesses the demon in "An American Haunting" to ruin the lives of the Bell family is never made clear. Nor are we ever sure that it was the curse put upon the family by a woman who felt cheated by the father in a land dispute. And why all the attention is put on the girl (RACHEL HURD-WOOD) instead of the father (DONALD SUTHERLAND) is another factor never really explained. He's the one the entity really wanted to destroy but he's not the first target. He's excellent in a rather underwritten role that makes him an ambiguous figure.
With all of these reservations aside, the film is beautifully filmed and despite being shot on location in Rumania has an American Gothic look that is appropriate for the story. The acting is uniformly good. SISSY SPACEK excels as the worried mother who sees how tormented her daughter is by the demon. JAMES D'ARCY is interesting as the teacher who has a hard time realizing there is a real haunting going on, his disbelief being another factor hard to rationalize. THOM FELL is fine as the stalwart son anxious to protect his sister.
And for a story about things that go bump in the night, it has plenty of chilling moments for lovers of films of this genre. And yet, despite all of the good elements--the settings, the photography, the fine performances--it never manages to be completely convincing, especially as it tries to explain things toward the end. The book-ending that frames the story with an opening and closing in present time seems an unnecessary touch.
At times, it's so overdone that it's hard to believe it's based on a true story. I'm sure there's some truth at the core, but surely the writers embellished the tale with a lot of manufactured dream elements reminiscent of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" variety, letting their imaginations run wild with menacing wolves and the howling wind.
A project that could have been so much better if it just concentrated on the real ghost story at the center of the tale.
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