An American Ghost Story


Day 23 Was Awesome…

Main Cast: Stephen Twardokus

Director: Derek Cole

Did Sinister teach us nothing?

If you’re a writer who moves into a murder house in hopes of writing a book about said house, and you start to wake up in the middle of the night to ghostly activity, when you get up to investigate, you do not wander the house in the dark with a flashlight! You turn on the frigging lights, you jackass!

Paul Anderson has moved himself and his girlfriend Stella into just such a house, only unlike the Ethan Hawke movie, Paul and Stella already know going into it that this house is, not only a murder house, but supposedly haunted. That’s why Paul wanted to move in. As he explains to Stella, anything having anything to do with paranormal activity is hot right now, which is the dumbest reason to a) move into a murder house and b) write a book. What ever happened to having a passion for your story? But I digress.

Stella lasts about 9 days and then, the first time the cabinet doors all open by themselves, she’s out, leaving Paul to try to make contact on his own. He tries to interview former tenants but the only one who will talk to him warns him to get out, insisting the ghost will try to kill him.

Meanwhile, Paul wakes up several times in the middle of the night to various kinds of ghost activity. He sees a sheet-wrapped shape on the bed next to him, he sees another shape under a sheet run out of his bedroom, he sees a chair move itself across the floor, he reaches under the bed to retrieve a toy only to see the weight of someone on top of the bed, and finally he watches his flashlight be taken away by an unseen presence who then has a good time playing the light all over Paul’s bedroom.

Lemme pause for a second and explain that toy under the bed. Paul doesn’t have any kids. But when they moved in, he had Stella decorate one of the bedrooms exactly like the murdered boy, Tom, had his room. Don’t ask me how or where barely-employed Paul was able to duplicate the bedroom from one grainy black and white photo that only showed one wall of the room, but he somehow manages it, insisting the ghosts are more likely to show themselves when the scenes where they died are replicated. Never heard that one before, but whatever. The truth probably has a lot more to do with An American Ghost Story being filmed in the house of the director, Derek Cole (Up for Rent segment: “Wanna-be Deadly”), which leads me to another problem.

At the beginning of An American Ghost Story, Paul and Stella are just moving in, but not once did the house look new. The furnishings, the decorations, the very AIR of the place looked lived in, and it killed the illusion for me. When Paul was in the garage doing some work on repairing an old radio, that was NOT the garage of someone who had just moved in, that stuff had been there for a while. Same with the pictures and decorations hanging on the walls, that stuff wasn’t fresh, and it was obvious.

Stephen Twardokus does double duty here as both writer and star. He has appeared in several of Cole’s movies, but this is his first feature length screenplay. I’m having a hard time deciding if he’s a better writer or actor, but I do know he’s not much of either when it comes right down to it. The dialogue was stiff and leading, but when it came to performance, he didn’t pull of “scared shitless” very well, either. On the bright side, there were several shots where I thought he looked an awful lot like Ethan Hawke’s Sinister character had a baby with Shia Lebouf and I started thinking of him, as I watched the movie and the totally ridiculous choices Paul makes, as Shia LaDoof, so that was okay.

I will also give An American Ghost Story credit where it’s due and say that Day 23 was some seriously creepy business. Paul wakes up in the middle of the night to whispered voices, but something about the clarity of their speech and how they seem to be playing a secret game of hide and seek just got to me in a big way. The plausibility of the scene was ruined for me when Paul kept trying to spot the ghosts with his flashlight instead of just turning on the damned light, but it was pretty good stuff while it lasted, making this movie the only one to genuinely make me uncomfortable, even if only for a minute, in a LONG time.

For that I have to applaud it.

Unfortunately, that was about the only really awesome part of the movie and it does not justify having to sit through the other hour and thirty-one minutes of this snooze fest. I wanted so badly to love this movie, but it kept shooting itself in the foot at every turn.

While Cole is a pretty good director who knows how to create some serious tension and atmosphere, these things were hobbled by the mediocre script and the uninterested performances of everyone involved. An American Ghost Story had great potential, but bad choices and implausible sequences kept throwing me out of the movie too often to really let me immerse myself in the experience.

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