An American Haunting

Opens at Pacific Place and others, Fri., May 5. Rated PG-13. Run time not provided.

Here's a tantalizing footnote from America's haunted past—a ghost story fascinating precisely for its grounding in historical record—reduced to a series of tame, lame 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; 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 mallrats, the limits of Haunting'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. You might as well be watching Boogeyman with muskets.

 
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