An American Haunting 

(PG-13) 4 Stars

Lisa Gauthier
(PG-13) 4 Stars Lisa Gauthier I love a good ghost story. I’m talking Poltergeist or the original Amityville Horror, not cheesy stuff. The kind of movie that makes you sleep with the lights on. An American Haunting isn’t one of tshe greats, but it is darn good. The story is based on a documented haunting in Tennessee from 1817 to 1821 that centered on the Bell family, known as the Bell Witch Haunting (there is a movie by that name as well, dealing with the same story). However, this movie takes its own angle. Not only do we see a family, and particularly young Betsy Bell, tormented by unseen forces, but also the movie posits a reason for the haunting. (I won’t disclose it, as that would ruin a lot of the punch of the film.) The cast is solid. This isn’t Academy Award territory, but Donald Sutherland as family patriarch John Bell, Sissy Spacek as his wife Lucy, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy, James D’Arcy as schoolteacher Richard Powell and Matthew Marsh as family friend James Johnston, under Courtney Solomon’s direction (who redeems himself for the godawful Dungeons & Dragons), keep the tension, as well as the believability, high. Special effects are kept to a minimum. There is no ghastly horror here, but Betsy dangling inches off the floor and the well-shot summersault of a carriage are all you need to elevate the psychological creep-out factor. Instead of dwelling on imagery to psyche you out, the film’s creators let the disturbing story do its job. One caveat: The film opens with a teen-age daughter of divorced parents having nightmares. Daughter finds old records of the haunting in the attic, and Mom begins to read us the story. We see the mom only once more during the story and then the ending of the film returns us to modern-day, with a tie-in to the haunting. The device is so sparsely integrated (and the historical part of the film so riveting) that its usage is unnecessary to get the point across. Even without it I would have slept with the lights on that night.

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