‘An American Haunting’


Writer-director Courtney Solomon has taken a tantalizing footnote from America’s haunted past—a ghost story fascinating precisely for its grounding in historical record—and reduced it to another tame, 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 shaky-cam mayhem and snarling wolves amped to 11. The movie creates some moody Hammer-horror atmospherics using shadows, candlelight, and darkened woods. But when it comes to the kind of blatant shocks favored by mall rats, the limits of Solomon’s toolbox become painfully apparent: The movie exhausts its blast-in-the-face scares through repetition. A wasted opportunity— especially since the events as reported scarcely need embellishing.