An American Haunting (PG-13)

Horror 91 May 5, 2006
By Jim Ridley
Writer-director Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons) takes a tantalizing footnote from America's haunted past and reduces it to another lame serving of PG-13 shocks. For four years, starting in 1817, the Bell family of Tennessee was terrorized by an unseen force, which eventually hounded patriarch John Bell to his grave. Donald Sutherland plays Bell, and Sissy Spacek uses her wraithlike presence to keen effect as his wife Lucy; they're overqualified for a project that relies mainly on a hyperactive shakycam leased from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead pictures. An American Haunting does create some moody Hammer-horror atmospherics using shadows, candlelight, and darkened woods--a reminder that insinuation is still the cinema's most potent scare tactic. Indeed, the movie's eeriest moment is one of its simplest: Spacek's spooky stare as she cradles her daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) amid a snowfall of goose-down from the girl's shredded pillow. But when it comes to the kind of blatant shocks favored by mallrats, the limits of Solomon's toolbox become painfully apparent. At one point, a snarling wolf leaps out of nowhere and unleashes a 150-decibel bark in Dolby Digital. Is this kind of blast-in-the-face scare effective? Sure: You'll also throw your beer in the air at a football game if the jackass behind you blows his airhorn. (Jim Ridley)
Courtney Solomon Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood, James D'Arcy, Matthew Marsh, Thom Fell, Sam Alexander, Miquel Brown, Shauna Shim, Lila Bata-Walsh Courtney Solomon, Brent Monahan Christopher Milburn, André Rouleau, Courtney Solomon Freestyle Releasing