Monday, March 27, 2006

Tagline of the Week: Courtesy of An American Haunting

It’s not typical that a horror movie slips under my radar for very long. Typically I have an inkling of current horror films at least a few months before their release date. However, every now and again something does slip through the cracks. The trailer for An American Haunting, which will be released on May 5th, was just posted on the Apple trailer site a couple of days ago. Not only had I never heard of AAH funtil today, but I had never even heard of the infamous incident upon which the film is based. AAH recounts the story of the only recorded death caused by a spirit in U.S. history, which occurred in the early 1800’s. The trailer paints the event as a phenomenon as widely studied as the Salem Witch Craft Trials, and perhaps it is, but I would be surprised. I am so jaded by trailers that volley for the title of being “the most historically significant.” After all, it’s a movie, not a documentary, not a non-fiction book, and when studios always use a film’s faux factuality to market it, I’m always annoyed.

I’m well aware that films within their genres are forced to repeat the same sorts of stories over and over again, but the terrorized/possessed young girl subgenre is one which I have had just about enough of. Wasn’t it only about six months ago that The Exorcism of Emily Rose was released? It was a film with an interesting take, (melding horror with courtroom drama), but one which lacked the characters and storytelling to make it really memorable. From the looks of it, An American Haunting, appears to have a similar storyline to TEOER. It is about a young teenage girl in the rural early post-colonial U.S. who is haunted and possesed by “something evil.” The set pieces that follow are ones which have been made unforgettable by the mother of all possesion films, The Exorcist. The rolling of the eyes into the back of the head, the blankets being pulled back by the spirits as the child sleeps, the hurling of crucifixes across the room ---all of it feels very routine. I think that doing a film that deals with “demonic possesion” is very difficult, because of the inescapable shadow of the Exorcist. Some people find The Exorcist to be laughable and silly, others find it to be profoundly terrifying. I fall into the latter category. Up until fairly recently I had only scene snippets of the most famous sequences with the head spinning and the pea soup, so it was easy for me to brush it off. But once I had seen the film its entirety, I could not do so any longer. The Exorcist is effective because of the depth of its characters, the thematic undertones, and the questions of faith and inner demons. It is terrifying because of the questions it makes us ask about ourselves.

Somehow, I have a feeling that An American Haunting is not going to be a film with that sort of sophistication. The film was directed by Courtney Solomon, who also adapted the screenplay from a book by Brent Monahan. Solomon’s latest claim to fame (or unfame as it were), was the Dungeons and Dragons feature film which was released in 2000. I actually saw Dungeons and Dragons. In the theatre. Please don’t ask me why. While I’ve since blanked most of it out, I have a vague recollection that the storyline verged on the painfully boring, and I recall laughing at moments that were supposed to be “poignant”. Along with a filmmaker of questionable taste, the film has another bizarre element, which I think will hamper it, instead of help it. The film is a period piece, but not entirely so. According to the trailer, the haunting which transpired in 1818, “is happening again”, and we are introduced to a young woman who lives in present day U.S., who is also being terrorized. It would appear that the film tells the stories of both these young woman, as they struggle with the evil pursuing them. Call me a pessimist, but I think it would take a lot of finesse and class to properly cut between two stories that take place almost two hundred years apart. Very few films are able to pull this sort of thing off, The Hours being one of them, and that film was a multi-narrative piece which told its stories in big chunks. It was not promising that even the way the trailer was done was clunky, the modern footage at the beginning and the end felt slapped on and disorienting.

The only thing which gives me any pause at all is that it does have some big names in the cast. Both Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek are legends in their own time, and I’m intrigued that they would both do such a film. Still the sinking feeling in my stomach tells me it was probably just a paycheck for them and there aren’t hidden redeeming qualitites to AAH.

Judging by the trailer, this movie has such a predictable and boring trajectory. Girl in the past is haunted, hauting escalates, she is possesed, and then dies. Girl in present is haunted, she too is possesed, but she does something to stop her eventual death and somehow free the spirit of the girl from the past whose spirit has been in eternal torment.

The tagline of this one is “Posession knows no bounds.” In a way, I find it quite fitting of the project. Because these posession movies keep on keepin’ on no matter what the quality.

There however two fortes to An American Haunting. The first is that the acronym for a horror film is AAH(!). The second is the poster, which I think has a eerily beautiful design.


Blogger SBL said...

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.

photo restoration

10:47 PM  

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