Teenage Ghost Punk
Amanda and her little brother, Adam, move into an old Victorian house and discover it is haunted by the ghost of a 17-year-old punk guitarist and his band of pals.
Endearing is the word of the day. But can a film get high marks if a lovely description of “endearing” is so easily and appropriately matched with an equally as earned term like “amateurish”? Read on and hopefully together, we’ll figure that one out.
It’s billed as a “supernatural family comedy” and that pretty much sums it up. And Teenage Ghost Punk is a strange one – but we’ll get to the why’s, how’s and should you’s in a bit.
Recently divorced Carol (Adria Dawn) has relocated from Michigan to her childhood area of Chicagoland. In tow are her two children Amanda and Adam (Grace Madigan and Noah Kitsos; respectively). There are the typical growing pains and awkwardness as the family settles into their new (new to them) Victorian home. Amanda is having a tough time being away from her old friends and her old beau. But almost immediately, there’s some extra baggage the family must sift through – their house is haunted… namely by a 17-year old punk rock kid named Brian (Jack Cramer) and his band of poker-playing “haunter” (ghosts) buddies. A romantic connection is made between Amanda and Brian and everything going on will come to a head at a Halloween party, held in the family home.
My husband said it best. “It’s endearing”. And that is the truth, but the film is also not terribly well-made. What to do? What to do?
I was reminded of the kind of “homemade” quality of several recently reviewed films – namely The Neon Dead (review) and Lost Creek (review). So many problems in the technical side of things, makes Teenage Ghost Punk (and the aforementioned other films) feel terribly amateurish. And with mostly “high-school” performances, it’s not a good place to find solid acting.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t sort of enjoy this film. It’s awfully strange to be in such a wishy-washy position, especially with what my job description is. I mean, I’m supposed to lay it all out for the readers – but this one is something of a tough call.
Okay then – we’ll just start with the bad. The editing isn’t good – and far too many “fade to blacks” are used. It’s distracting. The lighting (as in The Neon Dead mentioned above) consisted of a whole lot of uninspired color choices. Attempts to use bold reds, greens and blues – just doesn’t quite work. And I was not a fan of the sort of “lingering” camerawork. One particular sequence finds Amanda and Adam seated behind a psychic woman (see below) and the editing would go from a static shot to slow dolly shots back and forth and back and forth – across the front of the table. I’m not sure what was going on there, but the camera moved far too much in the film as a whole.
In the performances, the best work comes from Adria Dawn as Carol. It feels like she is the only one of this giant ensemble with some real acting chops. Her IMDb resume is pretty impressive, and in this film, she’s the only actor to consistently hit both cheesy laugh-lines and she’s then also able to deliver some of the more emotional moments with some authenticity – mainly as she’s either reminiscing about a long-ago boyfriend or scolding her children for an apparent unauthorized house party.
Basically everyone else (mostly younger actors) aren’t bad, but they can’t completely sell their characters. In other words, they’re not good either. There’s an overwhelming sense that these are all local actors, pulled from high school drama clubs – and they have little to no on-camera experience. They feel terribly green, and yet – this stilted, almost innocent dialogue delivery is sort of sweet or endearing (there it is again). See what I mean when I say I can’t quite put into words how this film sort of succeeds? Over and over again, I was reminded of a common phrase in my acting classes of yesteryear. “Coin the phrase” – basically suggesting that when you deliver a line, it has to sound like you’ve said it for the first time, that the thought has just now entered your head. In a strange way, the young actors felt over-rehearsed, but then there’s the feeling that the way they rehearsed wasn’t quite right. No deliveries feel genuine, and where there should be a pause as the character “thinks of how to phrase something” are constantly missing. They barrel through their dialogue and it’s off-putting. Call out to my acting professor, Jim.
But the dialogue was pretty good, with several very enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny exchanges. At the party, one of Amanda’s living suitors; Squatchie (a fun and endearing performance from Jake Shadrake) calls out the regular attire (not a costume) of the town psychic Medium Madame Lidnar (Lynda Shadrake), saying something along the lines of, “I love your weird old lady costume”.
Look, I can’t whole-heartedly recommend Teenage Ghost Punk, as it is not a top-notch professional product. But there’s a sweet, beating heart to this story and the family within. The very final (and obligatory) “14 months later” epilogue was heartfelt and endearing. The bottom line is that you like this family, their dynamic and their connection.
My final verdict will come as no surprise to my avid readers of 2. I constantly complain about films with decent budgets that look great, but have no heart – for there were obvious shortcomings in the script itself. This is a rare occasion where I think the script was pretty strong (not always) and that the production, execution and performances failed to live up to the story and dialogue’s obvious promise. Gotta give credit to a film which touches you in some way.
It’s almost irritating that a film which doesn’t work on so many important and basic cinematic levels, can still manage to succeed in the all-important piece of a film’s puzzle… it resonates on some emotional plain.
A loveable but poorly-executed film, Teenage Ghost Punk is now available on DVD and various VOD outlets.