AN AMERICAN HAUNTING
US, 2006, 86 minutes, Colour.
Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd- Wood.
Directed by Courtney Solomon.
While the look of this horror story is quite impressive – a recreation of 18th century rural America – it is the comprehension of the plot that is the difficulty.
It begins in the present, the device of a young girl having strange dreams, and then reverts to the past to try to indicate who the spirit is that is haunting the girl. The film purports to tell the true story of a family where the daughter was tormented by an evil spirit. The family try to cope. The elders and citizens are condemnatory and various attempts at an exorcism rite are attempted. In fact, it is really a historical-movie variation on the exorcist films.
The cast is quite strong. Donald Sutherland is the father who suffers most during this episode. Sissy Spacek is the mother. The tormented girl is Rachel Hurd- Wood who played Wendy in the recent Peter Pan.
Everybody appears anguished. There are some spooky happenings. Romanian countryside stands in for the US. However, it is all a bit unsatisfyingly puzzling.
1.The impact of the film? Eerie, supernatural, hauntings, ghosts, spirits? American attitudes towards religion, superstition?
2.The information about the case, truth or fiction? The spirit, the poltergeist, the activity? The records in American literature?
3.The setting: the contemporary opening, the nightmares, the girl and the poltergeists, her mother? The letter, reading the manuscript? Looking at the photo of Betsy and Richard? The recurring theme of the present as listening to the past? The past, the 19th century, the small town, the home, the school, the village, the fields and the woods? Authentic atmosphere? Musical score? Mood?
4.The title, the experience of the spirits, the poltergeists? Reality, nightmares? The explanations – supernatural, psychological, moral?
5.The introduction to the family, the Bells, Lucy, John, Betsy, the servants? The relationship with Richard? Socials, the dance, John and his severe religious stances? Lucy and her devotion? Betsy as the loving child?
6.Kathy Bittis? In the court, the elders and the hearing, the usury issue, the land, the payments? Kathy Bittis and her anger, her seeming curse?
7.The effect on the family: the attacks on Betsy, her nightmares, the appearance of the young girl, chasing her, the girl disappearing? The fights? Her waking in the night? The servants and their worry? Parents and their concern?
8.The visual details of the haunting, the nightmares, the house, the woods? The editing and pace?
9.The effect on the parents, the transition to John and his suffering? His confrontation with Kathy Bittis, giving her back the money, wanting the curse lifted? His attempts to kill himself – unable? The finality of his illness and death?
10.Lucy, her concern, her anguish? The servants? The clothes with the blood? Trying to protect Betsy? Her concern about her husband, his death?
11.Betsy, her age, with Richard, cheerful, at school, the nightmares, her being exhausted? The nature of the torments, her fears, the apparitions? The suggestions about poltergeists and apparitions – and her mother saying that the vision was part of her self?
12.Richard, the schoolmaster, American History, helping out, trying to interpret what was happening? His being involved in the dreams? His relationship with Betsy – and the photo in the contemporary settings?
13.Kathy Bittis, her bitterness, the discussion about witches, the tradition of witches in New England? This setting in Tennessee? Her saying that she did not curse John Bell, the issue of the money, the gun?
14.The servants, their role in the house, participating in the experiences?
15.The film not resolving the issues, not giving a final explanation? The final information about poltergeists and hauntings? The credibility of this kind of experience?