This film, starring Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek and James D’Arcy, seems to be getting terrible reviews all around. It hasn’t done very well in the States either, just kind of slipping away without trace.
I read the script in March 2004 when William H Macy, Helena Bonham Carter, Joseph Fiennes were attached to star. Interesting to note that they either must have all seen sense to leave the project, or received better offers elsewhere just in the nick of time. Or they could have figured out that the script was indeed a pile of poo.
Some of the quality of writing wasn’t bad but the story was groaning with cliché and didn’t make for a captivating or scary experience. A shame as it’s based on true events. It could have and perhaps should have found its place in the market.
Here’s my logline: “A woman finds a dusty manuscript in her attic, which tells the story of a wealthy family’s terror when they were haunted by an evil entity back in 1818.”
And my brief: “This is as about as scary as Peter Andre resurrecting his singing career: the script is surprisingly, and disappointingly, full of cliché and naff moments, which leads to an ambiguous and unclear resolution.” I wouldn’t ordinarily put in a gag like that but the company I read it for knew me pretty well at this point and I was their only reader so I felt I could be a bit more sassy.
Anyway, here are my comments. Spoilers aplenty but you’re probably not going to see it so it shouldn’t matter very much:
“This is a real corny horror/ghost story and it’s so full of cliché and naff moments that it’s hard to imagine that it’s based on a book by Brent Monahan. It tells the story of a wealthy family in Tennessee in 1818 who are terrorised by an evil entity and its revenge for the sins of the father.
But the story is poorly presented and structured. It opens in the present day where Elizabeth Swann has moved into a new house with her daughter Rebecca. Elizabeth finds a dusty manuscript in the attic and starts to read about the Bell’s ordeal in 1818 when the American haunting took place. So, the story CUTS TO Tennessee in 1818 and the remainder of the plot develops from here. But what we are presented with is hardly a gripping or scary story.
The crux of the situation is that an evil entity has targeted the daughter of a wealthy socialite to teach him a lesson about his previous sins and misdemeanours. This isn’t a bad situation per se but its dramatisation seems twenty years out of date and the spooky moments only have a comic effect. Mainly. Initially, some of the creepy and tense moments are intriguing but then the story becomes repetitive and unimaginative with its quality of fright, and the script starts to disappoint with its particular approach.
Basically, the unseen entity becomes more and more apparent in the scheme of things. It starts to talk to the characters and take on different forms, denying the reader/audience from being truly frightened or interested in its character. Indeed, once the entity introduces itself, it carries on haunting Betsy, the unfortunate daughter, but the implication is that the haunting has become a regular event, so this takes away the pace and urgency of what’s going on.
Sadly, what is going on is never clearly explained. A curse is put on the family over some dispute between John Bell, the patriarch, and Kate Batts, a local witch. But this instance is glossed over in the script, blink and you’ll miss it, and the lead up and implementation of this plot point is weakly done.
It’s blindingly obvious that Kate Batts isn’t responsible for the curse on the Bell family but the entity’s determination to haunt the Bells is never made clear because it changes from terrorising Betsy to terrorising John Bell. Apparently, the entity wants to torture John Bell anyway, no-one else, so why bother spending all that time terrorising the unfortunate Betsy.
The script tries to imply red herrings and shady characters but it all comes to nothing and unfortunately, the script’s explanation of events at the end leaves a bigger question mark than it did at the start. The entity has too much of a presence to be truly scary and all the visions, dreams and use of Ethereal Girls only provide bells and whistles to a fairly flat screenplay.
Some of the scene transitions are quite good and the writing isn’t bad but the more important aspects of plot and scare quality are sadly lacking, and the film distinctly under-performs. There are also one or two characters that have no valid presence or contribution and the script would do well to break itself away from the literary course of the book. What may work fine on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen. The dramatisation and conviction of this script seems to be somewhat out of date.
It’s not scary and it’s full of cliché. The ending is particularly frustrating because the reason for the entity’s haunting is not decently explained. In addition, the use of Elizabeth Swann in the present day seems completely redundant given her lack of importance to the overall situation. The bookend structure of her moving in to a new home didn’t do anything for the story and her shock of seeing her daughter being taken away didn’t provide a fitting finish. It’s all a bit standard and silly, and does not get a suitable recommendation.”