When Vincent Bariteau, Manny Souza, and father and son Matt and Rick Brodeur look at Halloween, they see more than one night of spooky fun. These men are self-proclaimed “home haunters,” and for them, Halloween means weeks of crafting and preparation, a major financial investment, and more passion than most people can understand. The American Scream follows these men and their families for every step of the home haunting process. The highs. The lows. Even the buying of supplies. (Bariteau gets a real coffin.) It’s all chronicled through this documentary.
There are also fairly constant hints of a deeper underlying story: Bariteau was raised in an ultra religious family and didn’t get to celebrate holidays as a child; the Brodeurs are seemingly unable to live apart and perhaps even dangerously codependent, etc. etc. But despite these whispers of depth, director Michael Paul Stephenson, perhaps intentionally, never gives away too much information or lets these revelations control the film. Stephenson instead uses a less-is-more approach and keeps the film relatively light. Because Stephenson clearly has faith in his viewers, he never spells things out. The American Scream doesn’t exist to pick its subjects apart and discover their deepest motivations. No, this film means only to tell a simple story. To look deeper or to stay on the surface: Well, that’s completely up to us. Because of this, The American Scream succeeds in a way that many others do not. It doesn’t shower us with storm of analytical statistics; nor does its director flash his obviously biased agenda over the screen. This film lets its subjects tell their own stories, and then leaves the viewers to deduce what they’ve learned.
This isn’t a perfect film. (Does such a thing exist?) Bariteau’s story is easily the most compelling, and Stephenson’s simplistic approach sometimes leaves something to be desired, but overall, there really isn’t much to complain about here. The American Scream is nothing groundbreaking, but it doesn’t take any missteps either.
Should You Watch? In short: yes! Watch the film as a study in people. Look for their motivations. Try to understand them. Determine whether they’re doing a good thing or an unhealthy one in spending so much time, energy, and money on Halloween. Or watch for simple entertainment. Watch this the background while you’re preparing your own Halloween costume. Just like the props used by the film’s subjects, The American Scream is an experience that, with a little work, viewers can craft into just about whatever they want it to be. But no matter what, it’s going to be good.