DVD REVIEW: AMERICAN GHOST STORY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JOSEPH O’BRIEN / SCREENPLAY: JOSEPH O’BRIEN / STARRING: DAVID HAYTER, MARIA DEL MAR, CASEY HUDECKI, FRANK MOORE / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9TH
A tip for first-time filmmakers: if you want to find an audience, a strong idea, good acting and pretty pictures might not always be enough.
American Ghost Story (known as Devil’s Mile Stateside, much more appropriately) is a real mixed bag, taking its cues from all sorts of disparate sources and hoping they’ll add up rather than working to make something coherent of them. Essentially a kidnapping-cum-road movie (Wild at Heart meets Fargo), writer / producer / director Joseph O’Brien throws in a soupcon of Angel Heart, a pinch of Japanese horror, and a drop of timey-wimey – and it almost works. This is certainly a good looking film (in that washed-out fashion that helps cheap movies compete with more expensive ones), and the acting is almost enough to hitch you up for the ride. But O’Brien’s techniques are as scattershot as his ideas, and ultimately if this fails, then it’s because it’s as unsure of how to achieve its goals as it is uncertain of what those goals really are.
The film starts reasonably enough, with three kidnappers getting lost – literally and as it turns out metaphorically – on a side road to nowhere. But our principals are argumentative and short-fused, and the first fifteen minutes are more off-putting than engaging; an audience needs someone with whom to identify and connect, and although this happens later, it’s almost a case of too little too late. The second problem is with David Hayter’s character Toby, a man so ill-tempered he makes the rest of the cast look like pussycats. It’s impossible to suspend your disbelief enough to believe that he might have made any success in even the most illegitimate of trades, and that serves to undermine your confidence in the rest of what’s being presented. Finally the cross-cutting with arch-villain Mr Arkadi, in what might amount to a flash-forward or flashback depending on which road the film ultimately takes, causes the movie’s coherency to suffer. While unsettling the audience might be appropriate in horror films, American Ghost Story is – in spite of its title and much of its content – not really that at all; instead the already over-complicated plot is over-complicated even more by the use of the technique.
Having said all that, the basic premise is a good one, the dialogue is strong if somewhat clichéd, and the twist ending is enough to cause you to rethink how you got to that point. Just don’t think too hard, as very little of the story really adds up. This would have been much better stripped back to its basic concept and with a little more development of that – and if O’Brien had somehow managed to make it just a little more likeable.
Special Features: None
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