Sunday, July 1, 2012

Movie Time: An American Haunting.

As American as obesity, and just as desirable.

I love my local library. It is close enough that I can just casually walk down to it and has a decent enough selection of movies and books that I rarely leave empty-handed. I especially like to get movies from there, since I often end up trying movies I know nothing about. I mean, if I don’t have to pay for it, why shouldn’t I take a risk every now and again? It costs me nothing but time, which I have plenty of. Well, after this movie, I am beginning to reconsider that, because sweet Jesus, this movie is a pile of donkey testicles. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some crappy horror movies before, so I am no stranger to the lows the genre can sink to. But this… This is different. I mean, The Mothman Prophecies was lame, From Beyond was stupid, The Car was functionally retarded, and Troll 2was laughably incompetent, but I never really hated any of them. All had at least some redeeming value somewhere, even if it was laughing at how awful it was. This movie though, this movie is different. It fails on nearly every single damn level: story-telling, characters, effects, cinematography, scares, the whole kit and caboodle. It is not even laughably incompetent. It is just straight up awful in every single aspect. I have hated no movie like I hated this movie, and I have seen most of the god-awful Barbie films.

An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film based on the Legend of the Bell Witch, one of the more famous ghost stories in American pop culture, and is directed by the same guy who directed the Dungeons and Dragons movie. So it obviously was damned to be at least laughably awful from the beginning. The film tells the story of the Bell family and their struggles with a “malevolent” spirit who haunts the family and abuses the daughter. A witch supposedly summoned the spirit to attack the family because she was pissed at the father for screwing her over in a land deal, but she is later revealed to have no involvement with the haunting.

She should just through herself in and end this crappy movie now

All this is surrounded by a framing story of a mother reading an account of the case written by a school teacher who is a friend of the affected family. She is reading them because… Well, I am not entirely sure. Her daughter seems to be haunted in her dreams by an apparition of the Bell daughter. Why does she know to look at the documents related to the case? Where did she get them? Why does she know her daughter is affected in the first place, since the daughter does not display any signs of being haunted, aside from the dreams, and never tells her mother about them in the brief period we see them together? None of this is ever explained and makes no sense. In fact, the film does not even need this framing device as it adds absolutely nothing to the story and only serves to confuse the viewer. None of the characters in the framing story have anything resembling a character and have a token handful of lines. And, to top it all off, the end of the framing story makes no sense when taken in relation to the events described in the documents the mother is reading. These parts could have been completely cut out and nothing of value would be lost. All it does is pad out the film to around 80 minutes instead of 65-70.

Anyway, the eventually cause of the haunting is discovered to be a poltergeist created by the young Bell daughter because of her abuse at the hands of her father. The problem is that viewer would have to be a damn mind-reader in order to find this out. This entire revelation is handled so poorly and so vaguely that any viewer will be left struggling to figure out just what the hell they were shown. The revelation itself is presented via a montage that reuses footage from earlier thrown together with a small amount of new footage. Problem is, the footage in the montage is only vaguely connected and it all flashes by so fast that it is hard to understand what is being shown to the viewer. The film also throws in a few lines of expository text at the end of the movie that explain the concept of a “poltergeist”, which means very little when combined with the footage from the montage. I doubt if most could figure out the ultimate nature of the revelation without help. I had to look at the plot summary of the film on Wikipedia in order to find out what happened and trust me; I am usually not easily confused.

"Your mother sucks cocks in"- oh wait, wrong movie.

It does not help that the revelation of the nature of the ghost makes no damn sense when combined with the rest of the film. The ghost physically abuses the daughter multiple times, even going so far as to rape her. Twice. This is the creation of the girl’s psyche; why would a creation of her own psyche physically abuse and rape her? What point does this serve? Shouldn’t it haunt and attack the father, the one who abused her? According to Wikipedia, it does all this to remind her and her mother that she was raped. That still does not make much sense, since there are many ways the poltergeist could have easily reminded them without abusing the daughter.

The poltergeist also appears as a little girl to her. Why? Hell if I know. The scenes with the little girl ghost are so out of place that they seem that they are from an entirely different movie. They are slow building, relying on tension and subtlety to try and scare the viewer, something the rest of the film does not do, instead choosing to rely on shaky cam, sweeping camera shots, loud noises, and stupid jump scares. Not that these scenes with the little ghost girl actually work of course, since they end up being more stupid and silly than anything. That would give the film some redeeming value, and we can’t very well have that, can we?

This scene might have been scary if they don’t get into a splash fight a minute later. I am not kidding. This is a real movie, people!

The scares themselves are just awful. Most the scenes, barring the rapes, are just silly. The ghost drags the daughter around, messes with books, slaps the daughter, makes scary noises, and, I am not even joking, [i]short-sheets beds[/i]. Those are the scenes that are supposed to scare the viewer. Scenes that are supposed to be taken seriously and build tension. I have to say, the threat of a ghost loses some of its strength when the ghost acts like some dick 13-year old who figured out how to turn invisible. The ghost’s powers are not even consistent. One moment it has to use doors; the other moment it can go through walls whenever it wants. One moment it makes foot-steps; the other, it is completely silent. One moment it can create vast windstorms that rack the house; the other, it sits silent. It takes the form of a black wolf at random (something that clashes with its previously discussed appearances as an “innocent” little girl), yet never at any point where it would be useful. There is one point in the film that it is suggested that it can only attack in the house, which is then immediately ignored when the ghost goes off to wreck stuff miles away. The ghost of the daughter appears at the end of the film, in the framing story, despite the fact that she has no reason to do so, since the event that caused the events of most of the film have been avenged.

To top it all off, a good portion of the scares don’t even actually occur; about a third are dream sequences that add absolutely nothing to the plot and serve as a “get out of jail free” card whenever the writer has written himself into a corner because of what happens in the course of some scenes.  They add nothing to the movie and if cut, nothing would be lost. In fact, if the useless framing device and the stupid dream scares were cut out, this film would only be about 45 to 50 minutes. That includes the beginning and end credits.

I don’t think she much likes pillow fights.

All of this might have been a bit forgivable if the characters had been any good. Of course, considering what I have sad so far in this review, it is fairly obvious they are not. They don’t have the luxury of being obnoxious, annoying, or unlikeable characters; in fact they can barely be considered characters at all. All the characters barely have any personality at all. What little personality they do have is usually defined by their role in the story: caring father, pretentious professor, drunken preacher, etc. None of these are written especially well or are particularly compelling, since all manage to be bland to the core. All the actors do a decent job, but none put in any memorable performances and I will be damned if I can remember a single person who was in this movie. Hell, I am even having trouble remembering half of the characters, and I saw the movie yesterday.

So, it has been established that there exists nothing of worth from the performances, story, or scares. Does the film at least look nice? Does it have good cinematography and nice special effects? Of course not. Like every other single part of this ass-tacular film, there is nothing of any value in the cinematography or effects.  The film makes far too frequent use of stupid swooping pans (usually over woods or through the house while all the characters stand around and look stunned) and frequently uses shaky cam in some inane attempt to convey the horror of the situation, which of course, fails miserably since you can rarely see anything. The effects all look absolutely laughable, from the horrible CG wolf, to the most atrocious ghost effects I have ever seen in any film. The film even resorts to changing filters in order to show lightning. I am not even kidding; all color in the film goes to negative whenever lightning strikes. The director also thought that fading from color to black and white would make some scenes look more “artsy” and “sophisticated”. That is not the case. It instead makes the film looks absolutely stupid and, like so many other things in the film, makes no damn sense.

Protip: Don’t eat the contents of random spoons without first checking their contents.

This film fails on so many levels. It fails as a horror film, since it fails to provide any scares. It sucks as a story, because it does not make that much sense and is inconsistent. It fails as a film because of the incompetence of its awful cinematography, incompetent effects, and boring performances. It even fails as a period piece, since it is historically inaccurate. There is nothing compelling here. There is nothing of worth. The only way one might be able to wring some enjoyment from it is to invite some friends over and mock the hell out of the thing. Even then, one still has to sit through this piece of rotten monkey scrotum, which is painful to the nth degree. Do not ever watch this film. Do not let your friends or family watch this film. Do not even deign to look at this atrocious failure of a ghost story. Like the poltergeist, it brings nothing but misery, pain, and extreme annoyance. Of the few things I regret doing in my life, watching this absolute waste of a film is right up there near the top.

Final Rating: F--/10

Breakfastman is an amateur reviewer, student, and all around cool guy. Questions, comments, constructive criticisms, rants, rages, or just want to tell me my taste in music sucks? All forms of feedback are encouraged, so feel free. All images blatantly stolen from Google.

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