Back in early July I reviewed the much-anticipated film, BLOOD FARE (my review). I was really looking forward to this one, but when I figured out it was a ghost story I got nervous … very nervous. I’ll be honest; I hate ghost stories. They’re usually all the same, taking place in either a haunted house or … well that’s pretty much it. And there’s also that scene in every single ghost flick where one of the characters is looking in their bathroom mirror (you know; the kind that opens), and as they’re closing the door after getting their toothbrush or mouthwash, there’s that sudden “shocking” scene of a ghost standing behind them (often accompanied with some high-pitched strings). We’ve seen that done a thousand times and I have the same reaction each time: I yawn and reach for the fast forward button on the remote. So when I received my copy of AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (formerly titled REVENANT) and read the description, my heart sank. I was looking forward to this one and really enjoyed director Derek Cole’s previous film, MUTILATION MAN (my review). I’m glad to say that Cole really surprised me with AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY and managed to take an over-used idea and really inject some new life into it.
As the film opens, Paul and Stella (Stephen Twardokus, who’s also the writer, & Liesel Kopp, respectively) have moved into a new house. Paul is a struggling writer looking for that big break and believes he’s found it. He specifically chose this house due to its long reputation of being haunted. He wants to experience the haunting first hand so he can base his first novel on the ordeal. He’s pretty fearless, and as he’s moving in he says, “Alright house … show me what ya got.” The cause of the haunting is supposedly a result of a man killing his entire family and himself several years prior. Paul, in trying to ensure a haunting takes place, recreates what the house looked like at the time of those murders. Using old police crime reports, he paints the house its original colors and even decorates the various rooms to look like they did on that fateful night. Stella is on the same page as Paul and even comments on their first night in the house that it has a certain energy to it that’s exciting. Uh-huh.
This is usually the time in your standard ghost flicks where all the odd s**t starts happening. But director Cole does something different here: He holds back and demonstrates an amazing amount of restraint. Nothing odd happens for a while. We see the days passing by and Paul grows more and more frustrated that nothing “ghostly” has happened yet. Then suddenly on the ninth day he and Stella get their first taste of the supernatural. Cole’s decision to start things off slowly really pay off here. He shows a lot of restraint as a filmmaker and this results in Cole building up a lot of tension. The viewer knows something’s gonna happen … eventually. But waiting for the s**t to hit the fan is way more tense than when the s**t actually hits the fan.
The first supernatural event happens simultaneously to Paul, who’s out in the detached garage/shed, and Stella, who’s in the house. Cole does a terrific job of getting the hair to stand up on my arms and I even considered turning some lights on in the house (I watched this one in the middle of the night alone). This first ‘event’ is too intense for Stella (yes, the same Stella that nine days prior was all excited and amped up about the “energy of the house”) and she leaves Paul and moves back in with her mother. Stella’s character became a little annoying at this point. She knew the house was haunted and she knew Paul was just waiting for something to happen. But at the first sign of any kind of supernatural activity Stella gets very spooked and bails.
This is the point of the film that will divide audiences. Paul is now alone in this creepy house with some kind of presence. Some viewers will be pissed that Paul is staying while others (like myself) think Paul’s decision to remain in the house alone is organic to the story. This isn’t a simple matter of a character doing something stupid thereby making their situation worse. When trying to comfort Stella you can see the decision-making process going on in his head. Part of him wants to leave, but the part that wants to stay and see this through is stronger. Paul’s been a quitter all his life and the one thing he wants is to be a writer. If you’ve ever attempted to become a writer you’ll understand his thought process!! Writer Twardokus did a great job writing a deep character who isn’t you’re typical shallow ‘horror hero’. And it’s because Twardokus is the writer and the actor that he pulls off the role so beautifully!!
After more supernatural events occur and become more and more regular he attempts to hunt down some previous owners of the house. One such previous owner Sue (Wendy Haines), is still a basket case and is experiencing post traumatic stress disorder from her time in that house. She tries to warn Paul to leave that house immediately, but it’s hard to believe someone who is borderline bat-s**t crazy. She tells Paul that the entity in the house targets one person and then does everything it can to scare off the people in it’s target’s life. Paul should’ve listened.
The acting here is great all around (especially Twardokus’ role as Paul) and Cole does a fantastic job of creating a lot of suspense and some real honest-to-heart scares. The cinematography is beautiful and Cole doesn’t employ any cats jumping through windows to the sounds of high-screeching strings here!! Cole’s decision to start off the film slow with almost no supernatural incidences really pays off. As the entity becomes stronger and Paul slowly realizes he is loosing more and more positive control of the situation, Cole exploits this tension to the max. You’ll be on the edge of your seat when Paul starts aggressively going ofter the entity!! REVENANT is one of the most effective ghost stories I’ve seen and I’m really impressed with what Cole was able to accomplish.
Derek Cole is two for two in my book and he’s done something I never thought possible: He has me rethinking my stance on ghost flicks!! If only they were all this well written, shot, and acted!! AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY is hitting DVD this August 20, 2013 … definitely check this one out.
Director: Derek Cole (& executive producer, cinematographer, & editor [along with Stephen Twardokus])
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer