With The Conjuring scaring the crap out of everyone at the box office, it seems like it was only natural for the me-too films to start coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the former’s success. One of those titles appears to be An American Ghost Story, which originally came out in 2012 and was entitled Revenant. Rather than unfairly hate on the film for that reason (which, come on, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here), it’s only right to judge the film on it’s own merits. That is, of course, if the film isn’t a rip-off that was hastily repackaged to coincide with The Conjuring‘s release. This is definitely not the case.
Paul (Stephen Twardokus) is a struggling author who hopes a change in scenery will jumpstart his creative processes. The scenery in particular is a house that is purported to be haunted. The cause of the haunting is supposedly a result of a man killing his entire family and then himself several years prior. Paul hopes that his experiences will lead to a breakthrough in his writing. His girlfriend Stella (Liesel Kopp) decides to join him, as she too wants to experience the haunting. They even go so far as to redecorate the house as it was when the murders took place, so as to ensure an experience happens. Eventually, the house responds, big time.
Generally with a small cast, it’s integral that you have actors that can handle a lot and keep the audience tuned in, especially on a low budget. Luckily, both Stephen Twardokus and Liesel Kopp turn in great performances that are believable and realistic. Twardokus reminded me a little of Ethan Hawke’s Ellison in Sinister (except without the douchebagginess), in that both characters exhibit a curiousity and naïvity that eventually leaves them way over their heads. The shift in attitude once Twardokus’ Paul realizes how big of a mess he’s in is again done realistically and very noticeable. As for Kopp playing the more rational Stella, you can definitely feel the fear in her performace once she realizes (sooner than Paul) what’s going on. Great job from both of them.
Behind the camera, director/producer Derek Cole ratchets up the tension and suspense wonderfully, keeping you hooked. Whether it’s using initial jumps to get the adrenaline going, to using the slow-burn, almost agonizing build-ups to the payoff, Cole executes them perfectly. Part of this is due to a combination of editing and camera work. Cole uses a variety of shots and zooms, mixed in with some great editing. Another is from the lack of CGI. Everything is done in camera, and done well. The film is full of definite scares, but Cole wisely chooses to hold back on showing the good stuff at first, which has you wanting to see stuff just as bad as Paul. It’s very effective and keeps you wanting as you hide behind the couch.
Not that I did that, mind you.
Any sort of negatives I have towards the film are minor. Paul’s decision to remain in the house even after being left alone by Stella is kind of stupid. Granted, it goes with his naïvity and his character, but part of me (and I’m sure some of you feel the same way) is asking why he’s still in the damn house trying to piss off the ghosts. It’s kind of remedied by the sense you get from Paul when he’s being confronted by Stella about leaving. His thoughts conflict with one another, and the desire to actually get a potentially successful story written wins out. It also helps that Twardokus also co-wrote the story. Then there’s also the fact that the film clearly feels like it’s being re-released with a name change to capitalize on The Conjuring and An American Haunting. But given what Cole and company have crafted, I don’t blame them for this one, either.
So instead of being another derivative film that has jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on recent big budget haunted house features, we have a well-crafted, low budget film that features great acting with solid characters that has jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on recent big budget haunted house features. Really, I don’t mind it that much, since An American Ghost Story is done so well and is very creepy. If you have seen The Conjuring and are looking for more, give this film a spin. Likewise, if want to get into the mood before seeing James Wan’s haunted house feature, you can’t go wrong with An American Ghost Story.