An American Ghost Story (Breaking Glass Pictures, NR)

American-Ghost-Story 75An American Ghost Story is a very genre-aware film, and exploits the conventions of the haunted house film quite well.


American-Ghost-Story 500

There’s nothing I like better than a good, scary movie, unless perhaps it’s a good scary movie in the company of fellow admirers, accompanied by a steady supply of popcorn and beer. The life of a movie critic being what it is, I watched An American Ghost Story alone and without the popcorn, but it delivers enough scares and other genre-related pleasures that I can heartily recommend it for your next scare-a-thon get-together.

Paul (Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the script) is a wannabe writer who has hit the big 3-0 without completing anything. So, he decides that moving into a reputedly haunted house, where actual gruesome events have taken place, will provide him with the inspiration he’s been lacking. This is a terrible idea for anyone aspiring to a writing career (hint: gimmicks don’t work) but a reasonable premise for a horror movie. His cute girlfriend Stella (Liesel Kopp) humors him at first, even decorating one of the rooms to appear as it did when a child was murdered within, but in short order, she has had enough of the creepy place (cabinets opening by themselves and such) and leaves.

Paul is a persistent guy, however, and actually courts what he believes are the spirits haunting the place, while actually starting to buckle down and get some writing done as well. He also tries to track down people who have lived there before, and finally hits pay dirt with a stressed-out woman (Wendy Haines) who basically tells him the house destroyed her marriage (just like it destroyed Paul’s relationship), and he should get out right now.

He doesn’t, of course, and An American Ghost Story continues with an agreeable number of scares and other genre elements. This is suspense horror, not body horror: there’s no hacked limbs or anything like that, just tension and release, achieved primarily through cinematography, lighting and music. There’s nothing really original in this film—a fact lampshaded by Paul telling Stella that he’s chosen this approach to writing because “paranormal is huge right now”—but it’s perfectly fine (as Mark Kermode would say) except for a rather unsatisfying conclusion.

Director Derek Coles, who also served as the cinematographer, has a good understanding of the visual conventions of horror and manages to make the most ordinary of objects seem menacing. I particularly appreciate the fact that An American Ghost Story owns up to being a proper film, rather than trying to pass itself off as found footage, the latter a trend I hope has run out of steam by this point.

An American Ghost Story is a very genre-aware film, and exploits the conventions of the haunted house film quite well, while also setting an example of how to make a classy and effective film on a very low budget. One of the DVD extras provides some details on how director Cole and Twardokus accomplished this (they’re quite generous in sharing their secrets); other extras include a commentary track with Cole, Twardokus, and actor Jon Gale, some deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and trailers for this film and other Breaking Glass films. | Sarah Boslaugh

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