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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We saw this movie last night at the Nashville Film Festival and sat 3
rows behind Courtney Solomon (the director). The ending we saw last
night was recently changed because the previous ending got such a
horrible review. In my opinion they should have just stopped the movie
2 minutes short.
I was raised in middle Tennessee about 3 hours south of the Adams farm and grew up hearing all the stories and reading all the books so I'm a pretty big fan of the Bell Witch. I wanted so badly for his movie to be an accurate representation of the "real" story but it was not. As in all movies these days they had to put a big twist at the end to shock everyone. This twist completely kills the movie and nullifies the whole Bell Witch legend. The movie even contradicts itself and in the end just becomes a confusing mess.
If you are looking for jolts and some scary scenes you will not be disappointed. My hair stood on end more times than I think it ever has before. And up until the ending I was willing to give it an 8 out of 10. The last 2 minutes or so absolutely kill this movie. Once we saw the ending all the little hints throughout the movie tied together in the worse kind of way and the movie falls apart. If you are a Bell Witch fan you will hate this movie. If you do not know the story you will probably love the movie and just think the ending was dumb.
In the Bell Witch legend Betsy Bell is tormented by a spirit named Kate that follows her wherever she goes. It starts out with what is considered poltergeist activity (strange noises, things moving around the house, etc...) but then becomes abusive and begins pulling Betsy's hair, scratching and slapping her, etc... She even vomits needles at one point. In the end though the spirit focuses its attention on John Bell and ultimately poisons him. This is the legend.
** Spoilers follow ***
The movie follows along the story fairly closely but in the end its John Bell who is abusing and raping Betsy Bell. Betsy has conjured up this "protector" spirit because of his abuse. That's the big twist. And its the mother Lucy Bell that poisons John Bell due to this abuse. The spirit which is apparently Betsy Bell's spirit (?????) then returns in 2006 to warn a relative of the Bell's that her ex-husband is abusing their daughter. Just stupid. To me this destroys the whole legend.
There were so many parts of the legend that they should have put in but instead focused on shocker rape scenes and dreams she was having so you never knew what was real and what wasn't. No mention of the Andrew Jackson incident or the witch singing "Row me up some Brandy'o" in front of 500 people at John Bell's funeral. Instead we got more shocker scenes and more of Betsy being drug around by the hair. Just how many times do we need to see Betsy being drug around by the hair anyway? I've waited for years for a good movie that tells us the real Bell Witch legend and I guess I'll keep waiting.
Acting. Thats the most noticeable thing you will find in this movie.
All the characters have performed well and acted according to the
period of the story. I haven't watched Bell Witch Haunting (2004) but I
have read a lot about the original legend. Instead of retelling the
actual event, this movie revolves around it, giving us an entirely
different interpretation of the haunting. Also, it tells nothing about
General Andrew Jackson who visited Bell's family during that time and
later became the American President. Its worthy to note that he was
once quoted as saying - "I'd rather face the whole British Army, than
face the Bell Witch again".
Around 1818, a farming family living in Tennessee is haunted by a spirit, the most affected ones being the daughter Betsy and the father John Bell. While the father's health deteriorates, the daughter gets all poltergeistic treatment. Slowly, they suspect the woman (also witch?) Kate Batts who previously has some legal issues with John and curses him that he and his daughter will suffer for his deeds. The haunting gets worse and the family members try to fight back the ghost in their own ways. By the end, when they seem to have abandoned their faith, the spirit itself reveals the reason for its existence.
The scary scenes are predictable but good. The notable ones are the first major attack on Betsy, the swing encounter, Richard's questions, John's visions, the cave and the best of all is the chariot ride. Excellent cinematography. A few good things in this movie keep us on the edge and makes us wait for the best part. But that best part never comes.
The fictional ending, though unexpected and slightly shocking, is not conceived properly. The movie begins with a Night-Shyamalan-like atmosphere. Most of it feels like as if you are watching The Village. Later it goes on to remind us of The Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Child's Play and several others, even The Omen. The ending is tried in a Lynchian manner - just tried. Sadly, it doesn't register in us at all.
Overall, this movie has good acting, good cinematography, few honestly scaring scenes and a different interpretation to the original Bell Witch Haunting. Nevertheless, it has a confused screenplay, half-baked script and an overhasty direction. The slow scenes are empty and the fast scenes are packed. So the balance is knocked out and what results is boredom. Watch it for the good aspects but make sure to take lots of popcorn inside the theatre. You'll need them to stay awake.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a complete spoiler...Some people have complained that the movie is boring because they show the same scenes over and over of the young girl screaming, and having nightmares. How would you feel day after day if you were being repeatedly raped by your own father? That is the point they were trying to convey. I'll tell you what this movie was about, since some people seem confused. The girl that was being tormented by "spirits" was actually being raped by her father. He was sneaking into her room and molesting/raping her. In the scene where you hear moans and whimpers from a girl, the mother is searching for the noise-- well that's the father raping his own daughter. He then comes out of the room and bumps into the mother, where they both agree the sounds have mysteriously stopped (hmm, gee I wonder why). The girl is so victimized by her father that her spirit leaves her body. She was hurting herself because the abuse was so painful. Finally at the end she poisons her father with her mother standing watch. Her mom had finally realized what was happening (duh). Then at the VERY end of the movie with the modern day mother and daughter... the daughter was being sent to her dad's house (joint custody). The mother sees the spirit of the little girl, and instantly runs out after her daughter, because the spirit of the little girl only appears where there is a child being raped/molested. Therefore the daughter was being raped by her father also. That's why the girl was chewing her nails and so worried looking from inside the vehicle as her and her dad drove off together. The spirit of the girl will always stick around to protect kids who are being abused. The End. I have heard this wasn't the original fact based story that comes from Tennessee, but I am just telling you this is what happened in the movie. What actually happened is supposedly a whole other story. I hope you understand the movie better now. Most people just dismiss it and think its a lame horror flick, but in the mind of an abused little girl, this was her daily torment.
Since most of the movie was utterly disappointing, I will start with
the only positive aspect, Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek. Both of
these actors played their part well and if it weren't for such a
terrible story and generic scare tactics, they may have been able to
save the movie. Alas, like many of the PG-13 horror films of today not
even good acting can make up for a shady plot, bad directing and
terrible editing. The film is based on the poltergeist story involving
a family in rural Tennessee in the early 1800's. The story is filled
with the garbled and incoherent dreams of seemingly possessed Betsy
Bell, played by Rachel Hurd-Wood. In a movie built around a ghost story
it was disappointing to see cheap scare tactics instead of making the
movie all around eerie. I am not sure what director Courtney Solomon
was thinking when he chose to film the movie with a style similar to a
low budget "hack 'em slash 'em" film from the 80's, but clearly there
are better ways of scaring an audience. While the filming style could
have used some work, the editing and special effects were a disaster.
It mostly resembled a bad soap opera. It jumps around between dreams
and reality faster than Ricky Williams' in a Marijuana haze. A movie
like this doesn't need a whole lot of special effects but the few that
it had were terrible and even ruined the scenes. The poltergeist was
nothing more than Betsy with a slight hue around her.
The only scary thing about this film was how many 13-year-old girls turned up to the theater to watch this on opening night. As a fan of horror films I understand if you want to judge this for yourself, but listen to my words wisely; don't bother.
Based on the true story of the Bell Witch (an apparently well
documented case in the US), An American Haunting is another absolute
clunker from writer/director Courtney Solomon, the man who gave us the
equally lamentable Dungeons and Dragons six years ago. I'm not in the
habit of dishing out the lowest possible score to movies I review on
IMDb, but this tedious tale of malevolent spirits is an exceptionally
bad film that truly deserves a roasting.
Set in the early 1800's, the film centres around the Bells, a well-to-do Tennessee family who suffer from a series of 'terrifying' supernatural attacks after they are cursed by a local woman (believed by some to be a witch). Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood), the youngest daughter is repeatedly targeted by the spirit; she is dragged by her hair, lifted off the floor, and slapped. Her father also suffers badly and his health deteriorates. Despite their best efforts, nothing seems to stop the awful disturbances.
After introducing the characters and establishing the basic premise, the film lapses into a succession of repetitive and not-in-the-slightest-bit-scary scenes in which Betsy is abused both physically and mentally by the 'ghost'. With risible special effects and some terrible directorial decisions (the pathetic ghostly POV is simply woeful), the film elicits more sniggers than screams.
Donald Sutherland sleepwalks his way through the role of patriarch, whilst Rachel Hurd-Wood comes off like a bargain basement Linda Blair, unable to convincingly portray the terror she is supposedly experiencing. Solomon, struggling to conjure up anything remotely creepy, chucks in a few obvious and ineffectual mechanical scares and then inadvisedly attempts a ludicrous 'twist' ending, which he completely botches.
A lot of people have criticised this film for not being true to the facts; I criticise it for being truly awful in pretty much every aspect.
This should have been a Lifetime movie (or even an after-school
special), since it felt exactly like that kind of overly sentimental
dreck. Even the actress playing the mother in the present day looked
like she stepped out of a beginning acting class for The Very Sad
Divorced Wife (i.e., big bulky sweater, mussed hair, a bottle of vodka
next to her on the desk).
How disheartening to see a film that could have been a great period piece end up as a big-screen version of every "victim of the week" TV movie, circa 1992. One point in its favor: excellent set design (it's nice to see a movie set in the South that doesn't automatically recall the plantations of _Gone with the Wind_). But overall, what a sad, stupid waste of Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland's talents.
I was at the Sunday afternoon screening of "An American Haunting" at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles. I was waiting to see this film as I love this genre and am a fan of Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Donald Sutherland. I did some research on the legend of the Bell Witch before seeing the film, and more after, so I had an idea of what to expect. First, I have to say that Rachel Hurd Wood was fantastic as Betsy. I did not see Peter Pan, but for 14 years old, she put on a restrained and haunting performance which she should be commended for. Onto the film. This film was scary, scary, scary and creepy. I was thinking about it for three days after, and my friends and I even talked about it at lunch today a week later. It really stays with you, which I think is the sign of a good film. If you are looking for blood and guts, then it will not be for you. But, if you are looking for tension, suspense, and creepiness, then it's definitely for you. I saw it with three friends and we were all on the edge of our seats. I had nail marks from my friend Lisa who kept covering her eyes because she was so scared. I don't want to give anything away, but there is a surprise ending which I was happy to see they obviously built the film around, instead of just added it at the end like a lot of films do these days. It reminded me a lot of the "The Others" with Nicloe Kidman. Anyway, the film really delivers and it says something important at the same time. I think, having read some other comments that this film will appeal more to women. You will see why. I did think that the score was a little large at times, and that the sound was a little loud, but really good and effective, just loud. The cinematography was great, and the way the director moved the camera to create a spirit view, I thought was really good and fresh. There is a scene where the spirit tracks down one of the characters, and it was truly amazing! Having recently seen Emily Rose, I would have to say that this film was much better and would highly recommend it. I can't wait to have a chance to see it again. If I had to rate it, I would give it a 8.5 out of 10. Matilda.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As someone who is very familiar with the legend of the Bell Witch I must say that I was very disappointed in this film. I live in Tennessee and have been to Adams, TN on several occasions and have read numerous accounts of what is said to have happened to the Bell family. I guess that I was expecting the storyline to be more in tune with the legend. There are several parts of the legend that should have been included that were for whatever reason omitted. There is no account of the story that I have found that indicates that there had been any sexual abuse of Betsy Bell by her father. Guess this just goes to show that this day and age you can't even have a good haunting without there being some sexual connotation implied.
Let's say it flat out, An American Haunting is the scariest, most intelligent ghost story to hit the screen in two decades. More original than The Others (which was a watered down cocktail of The Innocents and The Sixth Sense), and ten times more effective than the pallid The Exorcism of Emily Rose, An American Haunting wastes no time in setting itself up as a thriller with something more on its mind than just simply rehashing the same old grab bag scare tactics that every 'Exorcist' remake/rehash resorts to. Based on The Bell Witch, an apparently true account of demonic possession that resulted in the first recorded case of a ghost actually killing a human being over a hundred and fifty years ago in Tennessee, the film elevates itself by not wallowing in cheap tricks to scare you, and by always taking the high road. And, by doing so it creates it's very own world, a unnerving mood and an a undercurrent that prevails throughout until, when you least expect it - it strikes out, grabs you by the throat, and doesn't let go until the very last frame. The sheer terror of waiting and watching until the entire story unfolds (in a way you least expect) is so original and surprising, that by the time the finale hits you, it shatters you like no other horror film you've ever seen . The performances by Donald Sutherland and Rachel Hurd-Wood are first rate. It's their story all the way, and the beauty and generosity of the other actors subtle, effective performance (especially Sissy Spacek) is a testament to their respect of the material. But the real star of this film is director/writer Courtney Solomon. After having recovered from the bollocking he took for the impossible task of bringing Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie, to the screen Mr Solomon has rebounded with a story he was born to tell, and the result is an assured, first rate thriller, told with intelligence, force, style and wit. It's a roller coaster ride all the way, so fasten your seat belts. The audience I saw it with at the AFI Film Festival could not have been more responsive. You could actually feel the hair on the back of your neck standing up. The cinematography by master Adrian Biddle and the score by Caine Davidson are first rate, and help propel you into an unforgettable ghost story that will linger in your memory and haunt your dreams/nightmares for months after.
Despite being based on one of the most famous ghost stories in American
history and including a solid cast, this 'horror' film is anything but
scary, dramatic, or even interesting. Instead, the flick is largely
boring, confusing, and poorly executed. Even though it clocks in at a
running time of just 90 minutes or so, the film drags throughout most
of the non-horror scenes, and even through some of the so-called
'scary' moments. All of it leads up to a conclusion that is baffling,
illogical, and very stupid. The twist is one of the least sensible of
its kind in recent memory, as there is nothing in the film, up to that
point, to warrant such a move. Pretty much a terrible film.
Though the cast looks solid on paper, the acting here is quite bad. Everyone looks like they're just picking up a paycheck, from Sutherland, who looks bored, to Spacek, who's never been more shrill, to Rachel Hurd-Word, who attempts to do her best Linda Blair impression but ends up just screaming and staring around wide-eyed most of the time. The direction is absolutely abysmal, as all scenes with the spirit look incredibly amateurish with the swooping camera, and, for some reason, are shot in black and white. Although it's clear this was done with some foolish artistic idea in mind, it ends up standing out terribly and erases any small amount of suspense or tension that might have been built up. Most of the suspense, though, is destroyed by the absolutely atrocious editing, which is, at once, frustrating, annoying, and pointless. It all adds up to a lame excuse for a horror film.
The only thing that saves this from being a complete waste is that there are some cool visuals, and occasionally some decent cinematography. Other than that, though, this is an abomination of film, with terrible acting, dreadful directing, and awful editing. A complete waste of time.
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