There's little denying that An American Ghost Story, originally released under the name Revenant, bears a bit more than a passing resemblance to the fairly recent Ethan Hawke vehicle Sinister. It didn't necessarily help matters that writer/lead actor Stephen Twardokus himself bears at least a passing resemblance to Hawke, as well. Plus, when it comes down to it, both films have a decidedly retro feel to them.
I'm tempted to say "If you liked Sinister, you'll enjoy An American Ghost Story." However, Twardokus's script and Derek Cole's direction forge enough of a unique path that even with the undeniable similarities this is a film that stands on its own.
The film centers around Paul (Twardokus), an unemployed writer who is determined to find himself the perfect story and decides to rent a house with his girlfriend, Stella (Liesel Kopp), that is rumored to be haunted. What begins as a fun adventure quickly becomes more harrowing when it appears that the rumors may be true and Paul's relentless pursuit of the perfect story leads him to forsake those around him as he continues to chase down the truth.
Will he find the truth or will it be too late for him to choose again?
An American Ghost Story experienced quite a bit of success on the festival circuit including taking home the award for Best Editing and Best Screenplay at the Buffalo Screams Festival along with appearances at Shriekfest and Living Dead Film Festival. Given its successes, it's not surprising that the film found its way to Vicious Circle Films, the horror distribution arm of Breaking Glass Pictures.
While the film's name has been changed, its chills and thrills are definitely left intact. It's a credit to Twardokus's script and Cole's nicely paced and disciplined direction that this ultra-indie production is definitely the kind of film that grabs your attention and doesn't let you go.
Case in point.
I was watching An American Ghost Story when a dear friend of mine arrived at the house to help me handle a few errands around the place. While she assembled something for my decidedly non-mechanical self, I continued watching the film and within moments we both found ourselves glued to the screen and having forgotten everything going on around us.
That's an effective film and it's far more effective than a good number of the multi-million dollar films that Hollywood keeps shoving down our throats.
It helps to have a terrific cast and Twardokus is not just a darn fine writer but also a very good actor. His Paul is simultaneously self-involved yet vulnerable and intelligent and just about everything you can think of to describe the consummate horror film "victim" of sorts. Liesel Kopp is also top notch as Stella, while Wendy Haines really hits it out of the ballpark as a woman whose previous experiences in the house have left her a mere shell of her former self.
There's no doubt that the film's modest production budget occasionally gets in its way, especially in the area of lighting, but one has to give major kudos to Cole for figuring out exactly what he could get away with and committing himself to a strongly written and well acted horror/thriller that is not only devoid of high tech effects but also remarkably ingenious with the way it uses what could easily be described as cheesy ones.
Quite honestly, I was blown away by some of the choices made in the film but possibly even more blown away by the fact that they worked.
While critics and audiences alike often lament the recent surge in "family friendly" horror films because too often they compromise true horror in an effort to reach a wider audience, An American Ghost Story is a film that manages to avoid an abundance of gore and excessive violence in favor of genuine anxiety-inducing moments and solid cinematography.
An American Ghost Story arrives on home video on August 20th and should have no problem finding an audience primed for its relatively old school scares in our very real world setting. While fans of torture porn will be disappointed, devotees of psychological horror and those seeking a well done ghost story will most likely find it a delight.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic