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Bell Witch Haunting, The (2013)

Cover art:

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The Bell Witch Haunting (2013)Starring N/A

Directed by N/A


AUGUST 21TH, 2011: an actual date that appears on-screen in The Bell Witch Haunting.

AUGUST 22TH, 2011: another actual date that appears on-screen in The Bell Witch Haunting.

Given those two time stamps and that The Asylum also just released a movie titled after the non-existent date of 13/13/13, I guess once you’ve put sharks into tornadoes you have qualms about making the calendar your bitch.

The Bell Witch Haunting is as blatant a Paranormal Activity knock-off as The Asylum has ever made and they’ve made quite a few the past four years. But unlike 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck, the all-too-rare Asylum found footage movie that actually delivers, the makers of this one are left to rely on a greatest hits collection of Paranormal Activity clichés: setting up security cameras all over the house, creaking doors, passing shadows, creeping objects, night vision cameras, possessed sleepwalking, strange behavior, internet searches that reveal supernatural back-story, camera people being ghost tackled off-camera, lots of off-camera screaming, people getting dragged around corners by unseen forces, etc., etc. If Paranormal Activity is butter, then movies like The Bell Witch Haunting are “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Oren Peli”.

The one time it strays from PA tropes, it goes into Evil Dead and The Exorcist territory as a possessed girl floating in mid-air shouting Deadite-isms is yelled at by an exorcist who knows about a million different euphemisms for Satan.

Another difference, as prominent as Katie’s cleavage has been in the PA films, is that there’s never been any actual T&A on display. Some very gratuitous nudity gets shoehorned into this one early on in such a manner I momentarily held hope that The Bell Witch Haunting was going to try to do something a little different by being a Project X meets Paranormal Activity flick. If only it has been a haunted teen sex party flick, at least that would have been a little more stimulating than the same old, same old.

Instead, what we have here is yet another straining to be found footage film about a family that moves into a haunted house and are terrorized, eventually systematically murdered, by one of those malicious poltergeists that escalate things bit by bit rather than getting right to the point. In doing so, the film violates what should by now be considered four of the essential rules to making a found footage movie: don’t bore the audience, don’t make the characters annoying, don’t shake the camera too much, don’t overload on visual distortion so obviously added in post-production. I do give the makers credit for not holding all the action until the last five minutes like so many other found footage movies, but that is faint praise given little they do for the preceding 85 held my interest.

The source of this haunting is the Bell Witch, an allegedly real malicious spirit that terrorized the Bell family of Tennessee in the 19th century. Now, and by “now” I mean “then” in 2011, a new family has moved into what is supposedly the same property the Bell Witch haunted long ago. No real need to go into any further specifics since if you’ve ever seen a Paranormal Activity movie, you already know the specifics.

Mom and dad are rather shrill. The whole family is rather shrill. I was thoroughly irritated by every last one of these characters by the 20-minute mark.

The son is a wannabe Spielberg who decides to document the ghostly happenings in his new home even if it means coming across pervy at times or nonsensical at others. This is very much one of those found footage movies where someone has a camera rolling during situations that any sane person would have long since put the camera down. Dad’s seriously injured? No. No. Keep filming; that’s far more important.

The daughter suffers from severe night terrors so she’s already waking up in the middle of the night screaming at the top of her lungs even before the ghost begins messing with her. She also records her own fashion-themed web series that looks like it might be lucky to have four YouTube subscribers. The important thing is that her laptop just happens to be recording mundane stuff just in time for the boogedy boogedy to begin.

Heck, to sustain the found footage element even the electrician records his own how-to video blog while he works. With the unconvincing way the guy is yelling as he’s being electrocuted to death, I honestly thought he was playing a bad practical joke for the camera.

Much, too much, of the scare tactics are built around the same conceit as those prank videos you trick someone into watching thinking it’s one thing only for a scary image to explode on the screen screaming at the top of its lungs. Those work because they’re based on the element of surprise. Since nearly every jump scare is telegraphed by a crescendoing sound effect preceding it, kiss that element of surprise goodbye. It certainly does not help that there isn’t anything even remotely suspenseful or interesting to this particular haunting to begin with. All this has are the tired clichés of a genre rapidly wearing out its welcome. Even Paranormal Activity 4, arguably the worst of that franchise, had the common sense to be ten minutes shorter than this slog.

My only enjoyment stemmed from a few moments of unintentional humor that gave me a chuckle or two. Like when a glob of digital distortion flies out of the sky to grab someone, or when I distinctly heard someone screaming for a good second or two even after hearing the sound of their neck snapping, or the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me levitating bed sheets where you can’t actually see the strings but you can tell exactly where they are by the rising corners and drooping mid-section. And who can forget those magical dates of August 21th and 22th?

In conclusion, I would now like to take a moment to do my impression of the last five minutes of The Bell Witch Haunting.

“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA, WHERE ARE YOU?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”
“DANA?!”

1 1/2 out of 5

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