by William Goss
Recent movies seem to have become riper than usual for spawning their own drinking games. With 'Basic Instinct 2,' take a shot every time someone spouts the phrase “risk addiction.” With 'Mission: Impossible III,' do likewise with the term “rabbit’s foot.” As for 'An American Haunting,' throw one down with each and every sudden sound. Hell, if the hearing is bound to suffer anyway, one might as well take out their liver and standards while they’re at it, right? In theory, as the screen becomes blurrier, the film can only look better and better, and if that is what it takes to make it through such a frightless blunder, then bottoms up.The film concerns itself with the only recorded case in American history where a spirit killed someone, that of the Bell Witch legend of 1800s Tennessee. (Read: just say it’s based on a true story, and we can embellish the shit out of it. Come on, man. Everybody’s doing it.) Anyway, young Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) finds herself frequently assaulted by a mysterious entity, much to the puzzlement of her parents, John (Donald Sutherland) and Lucy (Sissy Spacek), and professor Richard Powell (James D’Arcy). Could it be because John tried to cheat the local witch on paying back a loan, or because writer/director Courtney Solomon really wants to assault a Colonial family with an inexplicable wolf and ear-splitting decibel levels? We may never know.
"An American Tragedy"
Solomon’s sole previous experience was 2000’s abysmal Dungeons & Dragons, which bombed at the box office, was ravaged by critics and fans alike, and convinced Uwe Boll to put down that razor blade and pick up a camera instead. Over half of a decade later, Solomon must have wised up and realized that if that film simply couldn’t make it onto IMDb’s Top 250 or even its Bottom 100, he would have to go out and make a whole new movie to succeed where it had failed, for better (not that the bar was set particularly high) or worse (not that his growth in terms of filmmaking capability was particularly high, either). Since he probably had his fingers literally crossed during the production, the camera was propelled with only one hand, rationalizing the frequent spinning 'technique' that plagues many of Haunting’s scenes, as well as the tepid 'screenplay' that backs the whole 'story' (hey, it’s hard to hit all those keys with just a single hand). After a while, Sutherland finally croaks, “There’s something evil here!” It took him an hour to figure that out? Poor guy.
Actually, no “Poor guy.” Of the entire cast, Spacek and Sutherland almost deserve better, but let’s face it: they should know better. Hurd-Wood is merely fifteen years old, and both her resume and that of D’Arcy could use some meat on them. However, the veterans have no excuse. At least Spacek appears to apply her subsequent guilt towards her role, trying to make it through as quietly and unscathed as possible. Sutherland, on the other hand, opts to overdo it to an exhausting degree, a futile attempt to go beyond the impenetrable flimsiness that suffocates the entire project and everyone in it. The film plays as if it had been directed instead by Anchorman’s retarded weatherman, Brick “LOUD NOISES!” Tamland, who decided to go out and film every scene scratched out of the screenplay in order to fill time, patching the sequences together with a tiresome 'It was just another incredibly vivid and time-consuming nightmare!' routine at an alarming rate and padding the entire film with modern-day bookends that not only contribute nothing to the proceedings, but may even take away for them (if that's even possible). Then there’s the ending, which attempts to justify the possession with an explanation that had to be in the top five in terms of most far-fetched and least satisfying.If you filmed all of my eye-rolling, hand-tossing, groaning, grunting, scoffing, shrugging, and slumping throughout the entire film and sped it up (and played it backwards, just for good measure), it could probably be marketed to the masses as a real-life possession scarier than the whole of 'An American Haunting.' After all, it would be immensely more accurate, vastly more frightening, and mercifully shorter by default. With that said, somebody get me a camera, and make sure it has a night-vision lens. I have a hack to outdo.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14509&reviewer=409
originally posted: 05/07/06 16:40:54