An American Haunting review

:. Director: Courtney Solomon
:. Starring: Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek
:. Running Time: 1:30
:. Year: 2006
:. Country: USA


Based on the Bell Witch case, a true account of a poltergeist dating back to 1817, An American Haunting chronicles the nightmarish experience of a Tennessee family victimized by an evil spirit.

To be frank, as an adult, I rarely get scared at the movies and even the notorious Exorcist, which I saw while in my teenage years, didn't do much — I find any movie with Cuba Gooding, Jr. more terrifying. Horror films had impacted me when I was a kid — and I still remember getting traumatized by the now-cheesy Amityville Horror — but after that the effect vanished and most horror films I encountered didn't go beyond the creepy factor. I didn't expect that much on my way to the screening of American Haunting at the AFI film festival, except for the presence of Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, and I even remember smiling when the lady who introduced the movie warned the audience. Why am I saying that? Well, An American Haunting scared the hell out of me and most of the audience, which is the ultimate accolade for a horror movie.

Building a foundation on the background — a remote house in the middle of the Tennessee Forest at a time when legends and weird beliefs were strongly rooted in society — and focusing on atmosphere and tension, An American Haunting successfully scares its audience by going for a psychological approach that suggests rather than shows.

While the film belongs to the Exorcist sub-genre, the historical factor here makes it more effective. Had the film been set in the present, it wouldn't have been that frightening and would have ended up in the over-crowded lot of flat Hollywood Horror flicks. But just like in M. Night Shyamalan's Village, we get scared through cultural regression, associating with characters who don't have our modern knowledge to understand what's going on.

Just like the Blair Witch Project before it got hyped, An American Haunting could be considered an Art-House Horror film, thanks to its tight direction, modest but solid production values and strong cast. Of course, as in most entries of the genre, things get repetitive after a while — how many times can you see a girl floating above a bed? — and, while I don't know the details about the true story, the ending is quite far-fetched. But horror films being exercises of the genre rather than works on plot, An American Haunting certainly succeeds at its purpose: scaring us. And it's so rare in current horror cinema — be they lame Hollywood flicks or over-hyped Japanese productions — that it deserves to be underlined.

  Fred Thom

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