Shot in the director’s house on a budget of $500, An American Ghost Story is fun for those who know the genre and like to play along. It contains clear nods to the three movies the director, Derek Cole, notes as influences: The Haunting, The Changeling, and Poltergeist. The film plays into some tropes while obviously turning its back on others.
Cole has learned to direct by working in film. He is good with details–so good that something more is expected. For example, Sue (Wendy Haines) making tea is directed so intricately that it serves to build tension, yet it is merely another nod to her religiosity, and something to do while she talks with Paul (Stephen Twardokus). He spends a great deal of time filming hands; fine when needed, but not when leaned on extensively.
There is some fantastic shadow work in the film–at times the actors’ shadows are almost another character. Another nod to Robert Wise.
Where Cole fails is with people and story line. Performers are either under or over-acting throughout the film. If it were one actor, I would blame them, but when it is every actor, the blame lies with the director. Dialogue is awkwardly written and stilted, as if the actors have been told to slow down unnecessarily. Slow delivery is a device appropriate for stage, but not always for film.
There isn’t a lot of story. We are given a setup: a man wants to write a book about a haunted house, so he moves in to one. His girlfriend, Stella (Liesel Kopp), moves in with him, but doesn’t last long. Oddly, we are not told they break up, but she is completely out of the film after a phone call the next day, never to be mentioned again. There is a friend in the periphery, and he stays there. We get background on the house, but it’s infodumped at the beginning, so there’s no mystery. The film moves from one jump-scare to the next, without giving the viewer much to hold their interest. There is very little character development, and no one in particular to care for.
All that said, I’m not sorry I watched it. There were bits of brilliance considering the budget and experience involved.
Would I recommend this movie? If you’re bored, sure. The ending is fun, though the climactic scene is pretty silly. It did get me to watch The Haunting again, which was fun. I went down a short rabbit hole afterwards, looking up the real Hill House, which is, in fact, supposed to be haunted.
An American Ghost Story gets 3 out of 5 ghosties.