Regardless of what you may think of Donald Sutherland, and Sissy Spacek, “An American Haunting” is yet another light weight PG-13 film that poses rather well as an honest to goodness horror film. In its appearance, it’s a very beautiful and whimsical ghost story told in two narratives. One is concerning a single mother in modern times, whose daughter is being ravaged by horrifying nightmares every night. Settling down from her daughter’s most recent tantrum, the mom—a historian I assume–opens up a letter and we begin learning about the Bell family in the nineteenth century.
Patriarch John Bell, a farmer has robbed one of his workers of her money, and after losing a court trial and costing her her hard earned wages, she vows to bring down wrath on the Bell family and their daughter. Now their daughter Betsy is beginning to see horrific images, and apparitions which are bringing her to the brink of insanity, and the Bells must stop the evil before it kills her. Are both situations connected? Is the house they currently reside in haunted already? Or has the witch begun her revenge? Why is the family in the modern time connected to the Bell family in the nineteenth century? One part “The Entity”, one part “The Devil’s Backbone”, and one part “The Crucible”, Freestyle Release’s new film won’t genuinely be regarded by fans as a true horror film, but it does end as a complex allegory for childhood.
Angelic Betsy, the daughter of the Bells’ goes through the usual motions of ghostly torment. She begins having horrifying nightmares, midnight visits, the entity’s slipping off of her sheets, gaining a sexual fascination with her, horrible physical abuse, and her family’s utter desperation to discover who or what is torturing her. My reservations for the lack of true definition of its genre notwithstanding, Solomon’s film excels in many areas such as the very convincing performances from Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek respectively, which are a thrill to watch here. Sutherland’s presence on-screen always assures a plus whether he’s in “The Italian Job”, or “Pride & Prejudice”, as well as Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of a desperate woman who can do nothing for her daughter. But the stand out performance is by Rachel Hurd Wood of “Peter Pan” who is excellent as the tormented daughter Betsy suffering from visits by demons being rendered helpless.
But gladly, the fact that this was far from a conventional horror film was saved by the aspect that in the end, the story is about human horror. Much like “The Devil’s Backbone”, Brent Monohan’s story is less about demonic entities from a supernatural realm and more about our childhood demons and the loss of our innocence and our trauma, and crimes manifesting themselves from our sub-conscious coming to materialize in our reality, and bring us pain and anguish. Solomon’s incredible direction presents an always evolving story that transforms from a ghost tale to a tale of crime, and when the parallel of the modern family to Bell’s family is finally revealed, it leads to a shocking final scene that pretty much sums up the genius of its allegorical socially relevant message.