At least I managed to stay awake until it was all over.
The original title of this film was “Revenant,” a French word which, according to my good friends Merriam and Webster means, “One that returns after death or a long absence.” Maybe that was a more appropriate title, because An American Ghost Story is a film with virtually no discernible signs of life.
Paul (Stephen Twardokus) wants to write the great American ghost story. So, like any us would do, he and his girlfriend Stella (Liesel Kopp) decide to rent a house where a mass murder was committed, because Paul believes it will stir his creative juices (Yeah, I know, it’s a foolish idea). Paul is so desperate for some paranormal activity, he begs the ghosts to make their presence known. And like my mama always say, “Be careful what you wish for!” Unfortunately for Paul, he gets exactly what he wanted.
I don’t mind a film that takes it’s time to get to the point, as long as the journey is somewhat interesting — and eventually does get to its point. An American Ghost Story moves at a snail’s pace, and when it makes its final slimy crawl to the end, you will marvel at the strength it took to remain conscious through it all.
Our hero Paul might be one of the film’s key problems. I’m sure Stephen Twardokus is a nice guy; he’s also the writer of An American Ghost Story, and a producer alongside business partner and the film’s director Derek Cole. In this role, Twardokus isn’t very engaging, so there’s no emotional investment, which makes it hard to care if he gets gobbled up by ghosts or not. In any film, it’s important to have some feeling for the main character, even if it’s intense hatred. But a careless indifference towards one is a death knell.
Twardokus is emotionless, his face set in neutral for the entire film. Paul is living in a house where five brutal murders occurred, and he’s being attacked by unseen forces…and yet never appears to be scared. It’s as if it were all a game to him. He smiles when chairs move without explanation, and instead of wetting his pants when the sheets begin mysteriously morphing into human form, he chases those bad boys down. We are supposed to be living vicariously through his experience, but if he ain’t skird, why the hell should I be?!
The story is a retread of a million other horror films: a man murders his entire family, then kills himself. The house is no longer inhabitable, because it’s haunted by the poor dead souls who were slain there. Blah blah blah. For most of An American Ghost Story, there is a whole lotta nothin’ going on. The film is littered with half a dozen scenes where Paul senses someone or something in the room, the music intensifies, it’s dark, he turns and…nothing. Fade to the next scene with a repeat of what just happened in the previous one. There are a few decent jump scares, but even these are ruined by an overly aggressive soundtrack, practically giving away the fact that something kinda scary might happen. And if you can’t see the ending coming from a mile away, might I suggest an appointment with an optometrist. I know a good one if you’re interested.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer quality looks as if the film did indeed lack a decent budget. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is adequate, but the film’s soundtrack by composer H. Anton Riehl is much too loud and obvious. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette with director Derek Cole and star Stephen Twardokus, explaining how they made the film (Goes on a little too long for my tastes); deleted scenes (enough to make a whole other movie); commentary; and trailers for An American Ghost Story and other Breaking Glass films.
Alright, so I didn’t care for An American Ghost Story. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the hard work put into this film by director Derek Cole and actor/writer Stephen Twardokus. Its herculean effort is made apparent in the bonus features, where the two men give a clinic on how to make a movie with virtually no budget. This was literally a two-man production; most of the film made with only Twardokus and Cole on set. Cole’s home was used as the location, and his young son and brother were drafted as the sheet wearing ghosts. In order to get the lighting effects, Cole built light boxes to control the effects in certain scenes. It’s obvious these two love the craft of filmmaking. Even though the results weren’t great this time around, perhaps with a slightly larger budget and Twardokus spending more time behind the camera instead of in front of it, 2 Man Production could make a real mark for itself in the film industry.
An American Ghost Story is an unoriginal tale plagued by a slothful pace, mediocre acting, and an uneven script. It’s an ambitious effort that ends up producing a sedative-like effect on anyone who watches it.
American (as well as foreign) Ghosts give this film a Guilty verdict.