An American Haunting

Bomb Rating: 

This film makes a big deal out of the fact that its story is based on the only recorded case in U.S. history of a spirit killing a person.

That so-called recorded case was put on paper in the early part of the 19th century. To say I find this claim of spirit-killing somewhat dubious is like saying Donald Rumsfeld lacks humility. If you made a list of all the stupid shit people believed in the early part of the 19th century, it would stretch from here to Jupiter. They believed all sorts of insane stuff, like menstruating women were possessed by the devil and steam locomotives were da bomb and James Smith Bush's combining careers in the law and divinity would lead to something positive. It's really one thing to claim that a spirit killed some guy in recent years and say there's evidence to back up the claim because there are all kinds of ways to test the evidence. To say such a thing happened in the early 19th century means virtually nothing. For all we know, young Betsey Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) was having her first period and these 19th century bumpkins didn't know what to do and figured they'd blame it on ghosts.

While the movie has a theory on what really happened, it hides that fact until the very end, an ending that reminded me of several other films and was hardly the surprise the film wanted it to be. Director Courtney ("Dungeons and Dragons") Solomon misleads us by showing John Bell (Donald Sutherland) being accused of ripping off his neighbor, Kate Batts (Gaye Brown). It then appears, on their way out of court, that Kate, a supposed witch, curses John and his family, which includes wife Lucy (Sissy Spacek) and a son, played by an actor not important enough to mention here. And incidentally, Courtney is a dude, even though that's a woman's name, a fact that made me dislike this film all the more.

Of course, this is yet another PG-13 "horror" film, which means that the scariest it gets is when the ghost shakes young Betsy violently. Ooooh.

As much as the film would like to explain the cause of Betsy's trauma, the fact remains that the story relies on logic losing the battle to the supernatural. What's frightening is that even almost 200 years later, we still have people who believe that faith is more important than fact; people who lend greater credence to things they can't see than those they can. They prefer feelings over science. That this film is actually a reflection of present day rather than the time in which it's set is a sad commentary on the state of intelligence in our country.

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