Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘The American Scream’

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The American Scream
Directed by Michael Stephenson
2012, USA

Stationed in a neighborhood in the small town of Fairhaven, MA, the team behind The American Scream follows three unique families as they each transform their home into an elaborate celebration of Halloween. The resulting film is an inspiring and heartwarming examination of human creativity and community.

The main focus of the doc is on the Bariteau family, and more specifically its perfectionist patriarch, Victor. Victor is an IT engineer who has been “house haunting” for roughly a decade and the completed project is always an incredible spectacle and neighborhood favorite. So much so that his neighbor, Manny Souza, has taken a shine to it as well. Manny doesn’t have the intense attention to detail that makes Victor’s house such a marvel, but prides himself on his thrifty resourcefulness and creativity. The third featured house is that of Rick and Matt Brodeur, a rotund father/son clowning duo who bicker and bond and introduce an element of quiet farce to the picture.

But The American Scream is as strong as it is because of the relatability of Victor and his family. If the pic had been merely about the Souzas and the Brodeurs, it would feel exploitative and abstract–though still very fascinating. But the Bariteaus are kind, normal folk who just happen to engage in a macabre month-long family project. It’s easier to engage with and understand Victor’s compulsions than the other households, and as such the emotional payoff of the completed haunt is all the more poignant.

It’s unclear just how invested you are in the success and happiness of its subjects until the surprisingly tender conclusion. Ending on Halloween, the final scenes revel in the community of Fairhaven, the joy of celebration, and the enormous payoff of true passion and hard work. If not a groundbreaking or particularly incisive film, The American Scream is a refreshingly straightforward doc about good people.

Emmet Duff

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