If only I’d known something about this flick back when it first came out (on home video — it never screened in theaters as far as I know) in 2012, I’d have been cheerleading for it a lot sooner.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that director Derek Cole’s An American Ghost Story (also released under the title of Revenant) is necessarily all that great, but damn if it isn’t plenty good, and it gets a lot more from its $10,000 budget (yes, you read that right) than most Hollywood “efforts” with ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times the money to burn. Any movie that packs a punch this far above its weight class is one worth crowing about, so let me take a few minutes, in the spirit of “better late than never,” to do just that.
Struggling-and-broke writer Paul Anderson (played by Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the screenplay and consented to allow his own house to serve as the film’s primary shooting location) is hoping to get the creative juices flowing for his first novel, which he plans to base on some actual paranormal experiences, and manages to hoodwink his girlfriend, Stella (Liesel Kopp) to move with him into a house that he damn well knows is rumored to be haunted. Those rumors — bet you didn’t see this coming — turn out to be true, and it soon becomes painfully obvious that in his quest to become the next Stephen King, Paul has put both he and his lady love’s lives in imminent danger.
Of course it all sounds familiar. It sounds especially familiar if you’ve seen Sinister. But please keep in mind that An American Ghost Story actually predates that much-more-ballyhoo’ed horror blockbuster. Now ask yourself who’s copying who here.
The acting in this one has its flaws, sure, but by and large it’s far better than you’d be inclined to expect given Cole and Twardokus’ insane budgetary limitations, and while the idea of transforming a modest, and fairly modern, L.A. home into a house of horrors might sound absurd on paper, the truth of the matter is that An American Ghost Story actually makes it work. There are a few actual, legitimate scares to be had here, and while they don’t come at you at anything like a breakneck pace, they’re smartly timed to maintain your involvement throughout the course of the film’s 95 minutes. Does that mean this is a terrific story terrifically told? By all means, no. But it’s a good story well told and that fact alone makes it better than about 90% of the other horror movies available on Netflix (that’s our theme, remember?) right now, so it’s absolutely worth a look.
I tip my cap to Cole and Twardokus for doing way more with way less than the big studios could ever dream of, and for constructing a film that, hopelessly bland title aside, actually has a lot to recommend in its favor. If you’ve blown right by this one without giving it a second thought as surely as I did myself on many occasions, now is a good time to give it a go and find out for yourself why, again like yours truly, you should have given it a shot a long time ago.