An American Ghost Story Movie Review
Written by Elizabeth Katheryn Gray
DVD released by Breaking Glass Pictures
Directed by Derek Cole
Written by Stephen Twardokus
2012, 90 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on August 20th, 2013
Stephen Twardokus as Paul
Liesel Kopp as Stella
Jon Gale as Skip
Cain Clifton as Sam
Wendy Haines as Sue
Steven Cole as Ghost
First I want to thank Steve for inviting me to review for HorrorTalk. It's a real honor, but now I'm nervous because my first review is not that glowing. It’s an uncomfortable position to be critical of a work created on a micro-budget. It's always an accomplishment when someone has produced, written, shot and edited a film almost all by themselves. And it’s even more of an accomplishment to get the darn thing seen by people not your family or friends, but I cannot give this film a full pass just because of a low budget. I find this film shows a competence in visual cinematic structure but falls short of being compelling or suspenseful.
Paul Anderson (Stephen Twardokus, who also has the writing credit), an unemployed writer struggling with his future, and his girlfriend (Liesel Kopp) move into a house where a horrible murder of a family took place and rumors of haunting surround the home. Paul thinks writing a book on the house may get him out of his rut. However, the situation soon starts to deteriorate as he endangers himself, his girlfriend and his best friend (John Gale) in his last ditch attempt for fame.
On paper, An American Ghost Story sounds good and has a solid plotline, even if it has been done before. I like the idea that this film is a metaphor for the screenwriter’s own angst as he ages, but the script just doesn’t live up to the premise. The story and characters are so underwritten that the viewer really cannot care enough to feel apprehension when the story is suppose to be menacing. All the audience knows about the lead character is that he moves into the house to write a book, is worried about his future, and has a girlfriend and a friend he has odd, sexually ambiguous relationships with.
These ideas are never really explored and there is absolutely no emotional connection. The audience knows as much as it does only because the characters tell us. It’s never demonstrated with actions or emotionality and very little is built upon or has any kind of follow through. For example, the girlfriend has two lengthy talking scenes with our lead. This relationship we spend so much time with upfront should be the foundation for the whole film. But then suddenly the girlfriend leaves the film never to come back. All that we learned about her and their relationship goes nowhere. While I admire a character that is smart enough to “get the fuck out,” her character becomes totally irrelevant to the plot and even the lead doesn’t really care. He just yells out “Well that sucks!” and moves on, like nothing happened. Paul’s other main relationship, his best friend, is barely in the film and has no real connection to the main narrative. Since the main character has no real personality, and no other characters to work off of, it leaves a film with a whole lot of wanting and waiting.
That’s what most of the movie feels like; filler while waiting for something to happen. There are repetitive scenes where one character tells the exact same information to a different character, which was already explained to in the previous scene. Then there is nothing but endless shots of a guy wandering around in a dark house with no real payoff. It almost makes you want something awful to happen to him because that would at least keep you watching. But even when stuff goes down, it seems too little too late. There is just not enough development for any kind of impact and the lead lacks the charisma to hold up the movie. The film feels like a short that was forcibly expanded to a feature, which makes it tedious.
Though I will admit, I enjoyed it a little more than other similar films. The director is really trying to make it seem cinematic. His name is Derek Cole and his day job is a production manager for film and television. After watching this film, I know more about him than the movie itself as his name is all over it and he wants you to know he did almost all the work. He does understand the cinematic language and is capable of working within his estimated budget of only $10,000. At times, the film looks and sounds a whole lot more professional than other horror films with larger budgets. Many of the shots are nicely composed. The ghost FX is simple but occasionally effective and it has a decent score. But in the end, the director resorts to cliché and cheap jump-scares because he cannot quite squeeze enough suspense from the performances or the script.
This is Derek Cole’s second feature film, co-directing a film called Human Behavior in 2006 and his professional background gives him a solid basis to build upon. An American Ghost Story has something going on but it never blossoms into the film the director must have seen inside his head. The next step in his creative process should be to learn more about screenwriting. Maybe with a more developed screenplay, he will be able to make a film that will give his talent a better showcase.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.