An American Haunting

A new thing I learned from An American Haunting: all fathers want to rape their young daughters. It’s true; at least, that’s the message that this movie is trying to get across. In fact, don’t even bother watching the first hour and twenty minutes, because once this “twist” is revealed, the rest of the movie ceases to matter. Over an hour is spent pounding the idea that the supernatural elements are caused by John Bell (Donald Sutherland)’s soured business arrangement with witch Kate Batts. Nope! It’s actually just a coincidence that John’s daughter, Betsy, starts being assaulted in her sleep by some unseen force within days of Batts’ vowing revenge (with special emphasis on the daughter). Turns out that the ghost/witch/spirit thing is actually the part of Betsy’s soul that died when John “stole her virtue.” And yes, I did just spoil the ending, but I didn’t by any means ruin the movie. Writer/director Courtney Solomon does that just fine all by himself.

On its own, this creative decision makes the story unreliable, if not a bit creative. It also completely undermines the heroism and strength of the character of John Bell. He’s like Jack Bauer stuck in a 70-year-old body. He’s a great family man, provider (both for his kin and his community), god-fearer, and all-around badass. Except. He. Raped. His. Daughter. I realize that no one is infallible, but when it comes to character flaws, I feel a little had when something like this happens. Character assassination aside, the movie continues to grind its boot into your spleen by adding a second, modern-day narrative. Bookending the main story is the mini-tale of a single mother whose daughter has found a diary that contains the story of the Bell witch. Right before the credits, the mother, as her daughter is pulling away with her father, is warned by the witch that the daughter’s father is also abusing her. The mom bursts out the door to chase after their car, unable to catch up. So don’t worry, it’s not just John Bell, it’s any male who procreates. It’s like Solomon is trying for that whole the-killer-comes-back-for-one-last-scare thing, except with paternal rape. So either all men are perverted child rapists, or the decision-makers of this movie are irresponsibly throwing sexual assault around as a convenient plot twist. Either way it’s disgusting.

There’s more to be said about the film’s acting, cinematography, and various other things that it sometimes even gets right, but I don’t feel like giving it any more of my time.

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