An American Haunting
The trailer for the movie An American Haunting pitched it in the Exorcist camp with an element of some brooding suspenseful horror from the likes of Omen. It was also boasting the talents of both Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, so it did appear to hold a lot of promise.
The section of the film that deals with the actual haunting is pretty powerful stuff, and really does work well, however there it ends, and to be honest there are some terrible problems with this film.
Before we get started may I just thank Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema again for helping out with these reviews, they're being really good and showing a genuine interest in film fans. Now, back to the haunting.
The film starts off quite tense, straight from the opening moments, a traditional horror\thriller moment that plays to many traditional Hollywood scares and yet works well enough not to seem over used. Then the pace is slowed and the more psychological scare tactics come into effect before the audience is introduced to the family at the center of the story. All this works really well to kick start the excitement and put the viewer on edge from the beginning, and the deliberate killing of the pace and views of normality serve to make you unsure of where to be expecting the next scare.
These scenes are almost too homely and idyllic though, I say almost because I did start to feel myself cringe a little but then quickly accepting the situation. This was perhaps due more to the period the film is set in and the feeling of innocence of the age. However it's not long before the scares are introduced again, with a slow building pace. Some of the scares are again straight out of the standard book of movie scares, but what gets you is the fact that they work, the do scare you, and I would find myself gripping my hands together because of the rise in tension.
The whole haunting is done well. It's built at a solid pace, there are plenty of scary and creepy moments mingled with the out and out screaming scares. There's also a superb use of movement in sound and camera throughout the film.
The sound effects travel around the audience, with whispers and growls, wind noise and slamming of windows, you really do feel as though you are in the room with the family members and experiencing the same events. Then later scenes move the camera around the room and the characters, often as the spirit itself moves and speaks, bringing the sound with it. It disorients the viewer and moves you right into the thick of the action.
It all adds up to quite a scary experience, not in the realms of Hostel (review) or Hills Have Eyes (review) scary, but creepy, unnerving scary. It's done very effectively.
During all this there are a couple of performances that stand out, Sutherland is very good, but Rachel Hurd-Wood gives a frighteningly good performance and had me convinced of her utter terror and at times total abandonment.
However it is at the peak of the haunting where the film takes a huge fall. Just when the story arrives at the pinnacle, ready for some payoff or twist, the entire story is explained for you in front of your eyes in around thirty seconds. Not only are you visually shown what has happened but whatever is doing the haunting decides to narrate what has caused this, what has happened since, and what is going to happen. You sit there as children being led through the story step by step. It's an awful moment, and quite frankly it's quite insulting.
It is honestly a word for word explanation of the entire plot from here on, accompanied by visual representations. A slide show couldn't have been any worse. From here on the plot is raced through in what seems like a matter of minutes, and events slammed on the screen for you to see as bold as day. Only at the very end is there some return to treating the audience with a modicum of intelligence and events are hinted at rather than spelt out.
These scenes seemed totally out of place and character with the rest of the film which had tried so hard, and was succeeding, in delivering something a bit more than a traditional scary movie. Yet when this guided explanation starts I was utterly disappointed and felt cheated out of a good film.
Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema
IMDB Film Details