An American Ghost Story (2012)

Description (from the IMDb):
Paul Anderson (Stephen Twardokus) and his girlfriend Stella (Liesel Kopp) move into a house that is well known for being haunted. Paul, a struggling writer plans to write his first novel about his experiences with the paranormal. What starts out as a fun and exciting adventure, soon takes a very dangerous turn. They quickly realize some things are better left alone, and what you can’t see, can hurt you.

Major Cast:
Stephen Twardokus as Paul, Liesel Kopp as Stella, Jon Gale as Skip, Wendy Haines as Sue, Cain Clifton as Sam, Maureen McElroy as Anna

Special Features:
None (Screener)
For Sale Version Includes: Deleted Scenes, Commentary with Derek Cole, Stephen Twardokus & Jon Gale, and Behind-the-scenes Featurette

Written by Stephen Twardokus
Directed by Derek Cole

Another ghost story. Another ghost story with a pretty unoriginal title. I wasn’t expecting too much out of AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY before I put it in; ghost/paranormal movies have become the new zombie flick for me… everyone is doing them and not many people are bringing anything new or worthwhile to the table. Occasionally I’ll see one that peaks my interest (on the big budget side of the aisle, I recently saw THE CONJURING and enjoyed it a lot), but like the zombie movies before them, with most ghost stories it’s just more of the same ol’ same ol’. And then when you add in the fact that this is going to be a low-budget ghost story, I fully expected the same ol’ to also be spattered in gore, because gore is a way to get people to pay attention to your low-budget movie, and gore can be done really well for really cheap if you have the talented people to do it. So, long story short: it was with a heavy heart that I popped AAGS into my DVD player; I fully expected it to suck… but it didn’t. Oh hallelujah, it didn’t!

Scary sister! Scary sister!!
Scary sister! Scary sister!!

Right from the opening seconds I was grateful to find that Breaking Glass Pictures did not lower the video quality on this release (see my reviews for 6 DEGREES OF HELL here or SCALENE here to see what I’m talking about), so it actually looked good. The movie looks like it was shot in HD; though I was watching it on a SD DVD I could still tell it was very nice video quality. The lighting left a bit to be desired; it’s not bad, but it’s not great in the “lit” shots. I do give AAGS a lot of props for the “unlit” shots; a lot of this movie takes place in darkened rooms, and they did a good job of making it feel like you were in the dark but still being able to see the action going on. The composition of the shots also left me with a lot of wanting, as it really felt like a lot of the same shots over and over again. There was not much variety in the angles and whatnot used, though there was the occasional change-up that helped (like the zoom in/pan out on the radio when it comes to life, scaring the crap out of Stella… I always love that shot) overall the composition of AAGS was pretty boring. The palate of the visuals exacerbated this, as the vast majority of the movie is a smattering of browns and grays, this color scheme does nothing to help make the composition more exciting. But, at least I could see what was going on in all the shots, and that’s a lot better than the last few Breaking Glass DVDs I’ve received!

No more living-room Jenga!
No more living-room Jenga!

While visually AAGS didn’t do a whole lot for me, it more than makes up for that shortcoming in its plot, atmosphere, effects, and just overall creepiness factor. Too many ghost stories, especially the microbudgeted kind, get into outlandish situations and gore and stuff that just doesn’t happen in documented haunted houses. Too often you have someone murdered by a ghost or the ghost possesses someone and that vessel goes on a killing spree or whatever, just so you can get some red stuff in the flick. I understand that a lot of people that are into movies of this level like gore, because movies of this level can get away with gore that studios would never even consider thinking about putting down in a script, much less filming. So I get it. But too often, that gore takes away from what could truly be a scary movie and just makes it silly. AAGS has NOT ONE drop of blood in it, and it is all the more powerful for it. AAGS gets all of its scares not by grossing you out, but through its ability to build suspense on atmosphere, and its ability to use common household items and makes them scary. A basketball, kitchen drawers, chairs, radios, sheets… scary. Kudos to the filmmakers for that.

Another major strength of AAGS was the fact that (unless I’m mistaken, and I’m usually pretty good at noticing this kind of stuff) there was also no CGi. It appeared that all, or at least the vast, vast majority, of the effects were practical, in-camera effects. This also adds to the realism factor that the lack of gore started. AAGS makes their ghosts OUT OF SHEETS, and while that may sound cheesy and third-grade-Halloween, it is so damned effective. There is no creepy black misty ghost crawling on the ceiling, there is no scary pale girl with dark hair crawling out of a TV, there is no, well, bullshit. It’s just the type of stuff you’d expect in reading about “true hauntings,” with maybe a little exaggeration. AAGS did rely a little too much on the old jump-scare technique, even making fun of it at one point with an email sent from Sam to Paul that is just that, but other than a little over-reliance on loud sounds, this film gets the scares right.

Yes, it's sheets.  It's scary.  You'll see.
Yes, it’s sheets. It’s scary. You’ll see.

Overall, I really enjoyed AAGS. The acting in AAGS was solid throughout, which is really important in a film that is made up of only a few characters and has little to no visual effects to hide behind. Not everyone was awesome, but everyone was good enough to carry their roles. AAGS could be a little prettier to look at, with a little more visual variety and more color in the palate (at least, in the non-scary moments), but it was never bad enough to really detract too much from the film. What AAGS did well – the atmosphere and overall creepiness factor, as well as the very well done visual effects – it does so well that it more than makes up for the more mediocre parts of its production. Is it the perfect ghost story? No, for sure it is not, but it is an amazingly well made ghost story that doesn’t pander to the lowest denominator and manages to make the viewer truly scare, and that’s amazing.

Overall 8 / 10

AAGS on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2241471/

AAGS for sale (as of 8/20/13): http://bgpics.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=207:an-american-ghost-story

AAGS site: http://2manproduction.com/2manindex/

Revenant (2012) Original Theatrical Poster
Revenant (2012)
Original Theatrical Poster
An American Ghost Story (2013) DVD Cover
An American Ghost Story (2013)
DVD Cover
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