The American Scream

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The American Scream
Directed by Michael Paul Stephenson
Brainstorm Media
Opens October 20, Nitehawk Cinema

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One of the great running gags on Roseanne was its annual depiction of Halloween as both America's most sacred holiday and a powerful outlet for working-class creative expression—it was shown to be the former precisely because it was the latter. Director Michael Paul Stephenson's The American Scream stretches the sitcom's take on the holiday into a 91-minute documentary, and though not must-see cinema, it is entertaining and affecting. Scream tracks three Halloween-obsessed men in Fairhaven, Massachusetts—Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, and Matt Brodeur—and their families (patient, often willing accomplices) in the weeks leading up to Halloween. As they turn their homes into haunted houses for their respective neighborhoods (some with a meticulousness that is scary; others with an ineptitude that is somewhat charming), Stephenson peels back their history and psyches to get at why they connect with the holiday. There are platitudes about "doing it for the children," but Bariteau seems to really nail it when he echoes artists throughout the ages with the simple "I don't understand my reasons." As it turns out, he's the most resonant of the three primary subjects precisely because his motivation (having to do with an unhappy childhood, natch) is successfully teased out, and his reaction to his neighbors' responses to his hard work is moving. Ernest Hardy

 
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