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Film / An American Haunting

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An American Haunting is a horror film directed by Courtney Solomon. The film was released in 2006 by distributor Freestyle Releasing to generally negative reviews. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. The story is based on a novel by Brent Monahan titled The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, which was in turn based on the Tennessee legend of The Bell Witch.

In an old house in Tennessee a single mother (whose daughter has recently begun to suffer from terrible nightmares) finds a letter written by a man who lived in the very same house more than a century ago. The letter, written as a warning to any who might read it, tells of the Bell family, who began to experience inexplicable paranormal events... events that centered around an adolescent girl named Betsy Bell, who seemed to have drawn the attention of some invisible malevolent entity. Events which, much like the young girl in the present, began when the girl started to experience terrifying nightmares. As the story of the Bell family unfolds, the actions of this entity grew ever more threatening until the lives of the girl and everyone who tried to help her where threatened.

An American Haunting contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Betsy Bell and James Johnston (who is appropriately played by actor Matthew Marsh).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Betsy avenges her rape by poisoning her father on his sickbed, and following that, she is never haunted again. She also eventually marries Richard. In the modern storyline, the Bell Witch, now in the form of Betsy Bell's ghost, turns out to be warning the mother about her daughter's sexual abuse from her father. The mother realizes this as the father drives off after picking her daughter up.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: The Bell Witch's two forms: a ghostly Betsy and a ghost with a horrid face whom Betsy befriends.
  • Dirty Old Man: How John turns out to be.
  • Ethereal White Dress: The ghost girl wearing the white dress in the opening scene and Betsy Bell's ghost.
  • Framing Device: The story of the Bell family is told through the letter left behind by Richard Powell, Betsy's future husband.
  • Hell Hound: At times the Bell Witch appears as a demonic looking wolf who stalks the Bell family, and generally seeks to prevent Betsy from leaving their property.
  • Here We Go Again!: A dramatic example, At the end of the film, the Bell Witch returns again, in the form of Betsy, to warn the divorced mother of her daughters sexual abuse
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: John Bell. See Parental Incest below.
  • Parental Incest: It is revealed that John Bell repeatedly raped Betsy, events which brought about the appearance of the Bell Witch.
  • Poltergeist: The initial manifestations of the Bell Witch strongly resemble that of a poltergeist, throwing objects around rooms and breaking glass. It becomes progressively more violent, and is constantly fixated on Betsy... generally only harming others when they try to get in its way.
  • Precocious Crush: Teenage Betsy Bell and her young teacher Richard Powell fall in love, and eventually marry.
  • Red Herring: Kate Batts has no real power over the Bell Witch curse, it's merely a manifestated force brought upon John by rape of his daughter.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: The Bell Witch, who haunts the dreams of both Betsy and the young girl that lives in her house in the present. She took the form of a ghostly girl with black hair and a white dress at the near beginning of the movie.
  • The Reveal: Two examples.
    • The Bell Witch is a manifestation of Betsy's innocence, lashing out because her father raped her, and she and her mother repressed the memory.
    • In the modern day subplot, the Bell Witch has returned, and the divorced mother discovered her ex husband is abusing her daughter.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Develops between Betsy and her teacher Richard Powell. As per history, they marry.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is an adaptation of an adaptation of a piece of 18th century folklore, and consequently departs from the original legend in several instances.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Bell Witch can shapeshift into various forms from an animal to a spirit whom Betsy Bell befriends on a swing to an apparition that resembles Betsy to a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl.