Monday, December 3, 2012

The American Scream

I forgot that the 2012 San Francisco Documentary Film Festival had a launch event/screening at the Roxie on October 16.

The American Scream; directed by Michael Stephenson; documentary; (2012) - Official Website

The American Scream is a documentary about three families in a small Massachusetts town who go all out in their Halloween house decorations aka "haunters" - similar to those people who go all out in their Christmas house decorations.  Superficially uplifting, director Michael Stephenson keeps exploring his subject until some disturbing facets of their lives come.

Victor Bariteau is married with two children.  The storage of his Halloween decorations and props take up every spare inch of his house to his daughters and wife's consternation.  Despite that, wife and elder daughter are completely behind Bariteau.  His obsession is odd until he shares that he was raised Branch Davidian which is the same "religion" as David Koresh and his Waco followers.  Not allowed to celebrate Halloween for religious purposes, Bariteau compensates as much for his own sake as his children.  Although he says it for the kids, I wondered how much was a coping mechanism for himself.  His commitment to "haunting" has more dark overtones considering his youth.

Manny Souza almost died of a heart attack and approaches haunting as if each year is his last.  He displays a fatalism which at odds with the wholesome Halloween festivities.

Matthew Brodeur seemed to have a mild learning disability.  He and his father, Victor, create the least sophisticated haunt and bicker nonstop with each other.  The father is a retired civil engineer.  The son (with his father) appeared to make his living as a clown at children's events which I have always considered peculiar on its face.  While Victor & Manny had full time jobs which they discussed, Matt didn't seem to have a "regular" job.  What makes Matt odder yet is that he has no wife or children (unlike Victor and Manny).  In fact, there is a woman who helps Matt and Victor out in their haunting.  She stated that Matt has told her explicitly that their relationship is platonic  and will remain so.  She seemed eager to be with Matt but he was oblivious or asexual.  I guess he could be not interested in her but I suspect Matt is not beating women off with a stick.

Director Michael Stephenson never confronts the subjects.  He likely gained their trust and then let them reveal their own troubled pasts.  The film isn't exploitive of the three men but it does much more than just document their preparations and Halloween activities.  I'm always surprised what people will willingly or inadvertently reveal about themselves in a documentary...or a blog.

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