AN AMERICAN TERROR
Firstly I would just like to say thanks to Jim Brennan, the executive producer of “An American Terror” along with Haylar Garcia, the director, for allowing me to watch a screener of the film before its official release date. It has just been picked up for distribution so keep an eye out for a release date soon. An American Terror is about a group of outcast and bullied teens consisting of ringleader Ray, misguided Josh and the lonely Sammy (respectively played by Joe Abplanalp, Graham Emmons and Taylor Hulett). After years of torment at the hands of the high school football team amongst others, the trio decide that it’s time to make a stand and fight back. Luck would have it that Ray and Josh happen upon a random redneck and take his plate number on the off-chance he might have a gun they can steal. Arriving at a junkyard the two uncover a lot more than they bargained for and none of it good. The film also stars Troy Allen and Louise Macdonald.
I contacted these guys through their official Facebook page after hearing good things about the film. I really appreciate filmmakers like this sharing their work with me and allowing me to help gain them some good exposure that they may otherwise not get. I can’t say a lot about the films details without spoiling all the good stuff, you will just have to see for yourself. The following contains some minor details but no complete spoilers.
The first thing that jumped out at me about the film was the cool poster. It’s very reminiscent of some of the best old school slasher films of the 80’s. After having seen the film my only criticism of the marketing is that the man in the mask looks a lot different to the man in the film (haha), that seems to be a common thing with the slasher genre though, so not to worry. At its core An American Terror molds itself around an internal struggle that these three young men are dealing with. How do they deal with the problems in their lives, that’s something we can all relate too. One wrong choice can change things forever. Josh is probably the most grounded of the three and quickly becomes a character you want to get behind for the duration. Ray and Sammy are not as well-developed but none the less you can’t help but feel sorry for them. The technical aspects for the most part are pretty solid. The audio levels got a bit better and dialogue somewhat clearer as the movie progressed. Some of the handheld camera work was a little overused. I’m not sure whether they were using steadicam or something else but the dolly stuff and smooth panning was a lot better in the second and third acts.
The editing was really fast paced and there were some really cool sound effects, such as the gunshots to accompany those transition cuts. The score is another aspect that really stood out. We get a few cool punk/rock orientated songs and then the actual suspenseful bass stuff worked well too. The solid acting from the leads Graham Emmons and the lovely Louise Macdonald kept me glued the entire time. Neither of them have to do anything special but it was just believable and that’s what you want. A couple of Louise’s emotional scenes were the standout moments for me. The set design and the effects we did get to see looked good and gave this a very cool feel. This is almost two separate films playing out at the same time, other filmmakers have tried a similar concept and failed miserably but An American Terror feels right. The cool plot twists really elevated the entire entertainment value.
Most of the minor issues in An American Terror lie with some of the details of the plot and parts of the writing. Some of that is probably on purpose and not everything has to be wrapped up in a neat bow to give you an end result your happy with. However, those little things stand out to me more because this had the potential to be one of the best indie films of the year in any genre, if not for a few things. The one technical aspect I take issue with is the naturally lit scenes during the day time. A lot of the shooting angles have the light shining right in people’s faces and the color grading during some of those opening scenes is incredibly mediocre. I read this had a budget of around $200,000 and I watch a lot of low budget stuff but I haven’t seen anything done that poorly before given that amount. The only saving grace is that after those first 10-15 minutes it improves ten fold, so I’m not sure what happened there. Most of the writing seemed pretty realistic but I haven’t heard the word “dude” used this much since the classic teen/comedy “Dude Where’s My Car” (haha), and when you are trying to establish a close bond between three friends, calling each other dude isn’t going to cut it, that got a bit tedious after a while.
The true motives of almost everybody in the film are never really fully explored. The mystery man in a mask (that was very reminiscent to another indie film called “Scream Park” see review), makes for some sleazy and disturbing scenes but sadly they don’t have the same impact as they would if we knew more about his mindset. The same can be said about the plight of our trio. We need to understand that better, see that better, maybe through some flashbacks showing us that this had spanned out over a long period of time. It’s easy to chalk it up to media/video games or violence in society etc but it ends up seeming like the easy answer. Fleshing out those aspects make for a much better character study and an even more impressive killer. Establishing more of a bond amongst the friends and answering those questions most viewers will be asking should have been more of a focus.
An American Terror is a very clever blend of genres that turns you around until you don’t know what to think. I would recommend for fans of “The Final” or “Home Room:Heart Of America”. I enjoyed the characters and the fact that this felt like two different films playing out simultaneously . Louise was the standout and looked gorgeous to boot. If not for some dude dialogue, color grading issues and a slight lack of blood and gore the technical aspects to this would have been flawless. More attention on what we know about the characters would have just been icing on the cake. I’m not that easy to please but Haylar and co have done a solid job. I can’t say this is a must see but it ticks most of the boxes, separating itself from the pack ever so slightly.
My rating for “An American Terror” is 6.5/10