BY: DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Adrienne Breedlove, Amy Davies, Aaron Gascon and Thomas Koosed
Directed by Seth Breedlove
Small Town Monsters
Before this review begins, it should be noted that I do not believe in ghosts. I do not believe in spooks or specters, either. I do not believe in UFOs, astral projection, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster, or the theory of Atlantis. That being said, a lot of unexplained and spooky bullshit went on at the Bell Residence in the 1800s, and the whole mess has become such a blurred mixture of myth and legend that, at this point, there’s really no telling what the fuck went on back then. Despite that, Seth Breedlove brings his authentic and skilled director’s eye to the legend, breaking down the so-called events in THE MARK OF THE BELL WITCH.
For those unfamiliar with the legend of the Bell Witch (an annoying name because it’s a goddamn ghost, but common sense hadn’t been invented yet) it’s actually all kind of interesting. In 1817 a family sees a bunch of weird animals around their house. Shortly after that, they start experiencing wacky stuff like the sound of invisible dogs fighting, an unseen entity gnawing at bed legs, chains rattling around the house, and something yanking them out of bed. The patriarch of the family also begins to have health issues, like “paralysis of the mouth” which sounds like pilgrim-times speak for “having a stroke.” Bad gas travels fast in a small town, and people from all over begin to visit to see the “witch.” They ask it questions, which it somehow answers, before beginning to flex some serious ethereal muscle…
I don’t want to go through a blow-by-blow of the whole affair, since that’s what THE MARK OF THE BELL WITCH is all about. What’s especially cool is how the documentary is handled. Firstly, the re-enactments are nothing short of masterful. If you were expecting some phoned in half-assery like Unsolved Mysteries slaps you in the face with, guess again. The actors go all-in, like those weirdos who never break character at the Renaissance Faire. You actually begin to feel a little bad for the characters, momentarily forgetting that they were dreadful slave owners who likely made up the whole thing to rake in coin.
What really stands out is the direction of these re-enactments. Breedlove does some serious filmwork with continuous takes, leading lines, clever shadow play, the whole nine yards. You go into the film expecting to make fun of a documentary that is giving credibility to a case of mercury filled well-water causing a family to go bananas, and you end up witnessing a genuine artist show off their skill in retelling a creepy legend.
The other thing that makes the documentary stand out as not just another investigation into the unverifiable paranormal are the modern day interviews. All too often, ghost hunting docu-dramas end up filling the screen with zealots and psychics: people so invested in this invented reality that their desperation bleeds through the screen. THE MARK OF THE BELL WITCH instead features average folk who are simply interested in compiling the accounts of what happened back then – amateur historians who enjoy a bit of myth. There are a few instances of someone who’s a little too keen to latch onto he unexplained, but hey, loading the documentary with jaded cynics like me wouldn’t make for interesting screentime, right?
Overall, THE MARK OF THE BELL WITCH manages to offer up something for believers and skeptics alike. You can come for the story, stay for the artistic re-enactments, and come away with a better understanding of a weird moment in history. You’ll probably leave with some of your own conclusions, too.
THE MARK OF THE BELL WITCH is out now on Blu-Ray and VOD.