Stories of the supernatural bring up many differing opinions in the general public. There are sceptics, there are those who want to believe these things exist and there are those who claim to have had direct interaction with supernatural begins. This can be anything from seeing ghosts, UFO encounters or spotting Bigfoot. But a common thread with these things is the tales and diverse stories that go with them. They vary from the plausible to the completely ridiculous. But what makes some of these stories stand out above the rest is the folklore surrounding them?
So when director Seth Breedlove was thinking what to tackle for his next documentary, surely a story which hundreds of years of history and murder was an obvious place to start. His latest feature The Mark of The Bell Witch, tells the story of the Bell Witch, a tale that is a legend from Southern United States folklore, centred on the 19th-century Bell family of northwest Robertson County, Tennessee.
According to legend, from 1817-1821, John Bell Senior, his family, and the local area came under attack by a mostly invisible entity that was able to speak, affect the physical environment, and shapeshift. The apparition often referred to and considered a poltergeist, reportedly responded to the name “Kate” or “Old Kate Batts” and focused much of its energy on the Bell family's youngest daughter Betsy, as well as threatened to murder the patriarch, John Bell Sr.
In Breedlove's film, he gathers a collection of talking heads – including a self-proclaimed local historian and a folklorist – to give accounts of the story as well as using dramatic re-enactments throughout the film. Clearly, a lot of research has gone into this production, and the number of different view points put into the film shows how much people want to know about this story.
However, a lot of the film's opening is just setting the scene, and it feels a lot of what is the main meat and veg of the tale could probably be wrapped up in 45 minutes. Also, the re-enactment segments of the film come off as a little contrived. Being added in with eerie music and all shot in black and white, they feel a bit out of place and in some instances a bit cheap. Therefore it takes the viewer out of the true documentary feel of the film.
The folklore experts and historians speak about the hauntings of the Bell family as if they are fact, but of course, it's all supernatural tales spun from passed-down stories and ancient books and diaries, but it does give the film a sense of importance that these people are telling the narrative in such a factual manner.
All that being said, Breedlove does well to condense down what could be a very heavy and murky subject matter into a story that has enough interest to keep a viewer engaged. And for those who go into this film not having a clue about The Bell Witch Hauntings, then this is certainly something to whet your appetite and send you into a spiral of your own research.
Dir: Seth Breedlove
Prd: Elvin Altman, Deborah Arndell, Adrienne Breedlove, Shawn Davis, Forest Hazel, Morgan Hazel, Sherry Le, Todd B. Nurick, Elizabeth Saint, Theresa Tramel, Jason Van Loo
Music: Brandon Dalo
Run time: 85 minutes
The Mark Of The Bell Witch is available to rent or own on Amazon Instant Video, Vimeo OnDemand, DVD and VIDI Space now.