We start off the way many movies before it have begun: Girl is running in forest because she is being chased by something we can't see. Her breathing is heavy, she repeatedly looks back, she stumbles and falls approximately 889 times before reaching her destination. She locks the door behind her. She is safe. Then she is not safe. Then the opening credits roll.
Yup, that's pretty much it.
We begin in modern times with a young girl being haunted and her concerned mother. She starts reading some very old letters, which brings us to...
...A family in the early 1800s is being terrorized every night by some evil spirit. After some sort of land dispute, an angry woman curses the father and his daughter. Seems a bit melodramatic to me. Anyway, the young daughter is soon being attacked night after night by the spirit. Along with being physically attacked, she is plagued by nightmares. The makers of this film love to show you the nightmares and make you think they are real, then jump back to the girl being startled awake. Oh, it was just a dream. They do this several times. It gets old fast.
Despite some scares, it isn't all that frightening. My biggest issue with An American Haunting, however, is the explanation at the end. It was easy enough to see what they were implying was happening (why this girl was being picked on by some evil entity), but they (a) never really showed us evidence of it, (b) never clearly said it, and (c) the rest of the movie doesn't support the conclusion. In fact, they barely implied what the cause of all of this was. Sure, you could come up with your own ideas of why it makes sense, but it just doesn't stick with me. I think they were trying to be shocking, which is why there was no hint of it throughout the movie. That would have been fine if it was better dealt with.
Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek star as the parents, and they make for likable enough people. The daughter is more-or-less sweet, cute, and it's hard to understand why anyone would want to hurt her, but this shit always happens to people like this. Then there are some supporting characters: the young, handsome, school teacher; the friend; the boy she kind of likes; a dude who tries to make the demons go away with the Bible. Oh, and there's a brother who isn't of much consequence.
And those modern people from the beginning? Yeah, we don't see a whole lot of them. The mother comes and goes at different points in the storytelling, knowing that this is giving her the answers she needs about what is happening to her daughter. But she's in the entire movie for maybe two minutes.
Not a complete failure, but...still a failure.
My grade: C