The Other (1972) + An American Haunting (2005)

I simply stumbled into watch An American Haunting, where as The Other has been on my must-see list for some time. My anticipation for the latter film was met with great reward and quick deflation, while my feels towards the other went from ambivalence to disdain rather quickly.

To explain my downturn in attitude towards both films I must first state that I don’t like twists. The twist ending is often a cop out or a moment of ridiculous ego-driven grandstanding. Twist endings can be used to explain or justify just about every damn foolish event we’ve just witnessed. They make an excuse for or pardon a character’s actions. Worst of all, they often feel designed to place the filmmakers in some heightened role; like a grand puppet master or god able construct complex worlds that mystify audience.

For me, the only twist endings that work, the one’s that truly entertain are the ones that fail miserably. They must come completely out of left field, make absolutely no sense, and leave you even more confused. In short, the must look and feel like connect-the-dots done by blindfolded drunks.

Neither The Other nor An American Haunting fall into this latter category.

These are two distinctly different films about childhood trauma working itself out through supernatural forces. Both rely on a twist ending.

The Other is wonderfully creepy an atmospheric, set against a chilly Connecticut backdrop it tells the story of twin boys – one evil, one good. As the poster asks, I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that as soon as I suspected what was coming my interest dropped like a baby down a well. At least the cinematic values of this picture lifted in past the shortcomings of the script.

I can’t say the same about An American Haunting. This tale of 18th century witchcraft, cursing, and possession reveals its twist early on, and I really don’t think you have to be all that versed in these sort of films to catch it. The red herring they throw to the audience is so obvious that it is almost offensive.  For the duration of the film I really hoped they were being so open simply to disguise an even more outlandish twist. I was wrong.

My rather sad reaction two both these films is one that speaks more to my intolerance for the sort of twists that take an interesting psychological or sociological premise and turn the film into wild what-if fantasy. Rather than ponder how two seemingly identical children could take to drastically different paths could be interesting. How a family hexed by a witch might create their own demons and fall pray to their own superstitions could be interesting. Those are films I want to think about, not ones designed to keep me guessing as the filmmakers attempt to prove the greatness of their imaginations. Most times, the results are far from mind-shatter and miles short of greatness.


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