American Movie (1999)


Hey there, dear reader. I’m going to start this off by guessing you might have clicked into this review out of curiosity as to why it is on this horror review website. That is valid and let’s call a spade a spade - there is no good answer. We allow our Patreon members to pick movies for us to review on occasion and this is what you get sometimes. That being said, we do have some quality control over here (shocking, I know) and we deemed this film tangentially connected enough to fit. That being said, this is not going to be a normal review. I’m instead going to keep it short but go into a couple angles of how horror fits into this movie from the definitely obvious to the maybe obvious but I’m going to act like it’s not so I can feel clever. Cool? Let’s do it.

Reviewed by: Jake

Plot Synopsis

American movie is a documentary chronicling the attempted creation of an independent film by small-town filmmaker Mark Borchardt. The film follows him over the course of a couple years and deals with the ups-and-downs of his passion project. Most notable for the purposes of this website is that due to financial struggles, Mark has to pivot from the creation of his feature and finish a horror short he had been working on to try to sell enough units to turn back into funding for his feature. Throughout the film, you get to see his personal relationships, from his parents and brothers, to his uncle, Bill, to his estranged wife and children, to his sidekick and best buddy, Mike Schank. The film ends with his horror short, Coven completed as he shows it to a sold out theater in his hometown outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


How it Fits into Horror

Film-Within-the -Film - Though Mark is trying to finish his feature Film, Northwestern, the bulk of the documentary is focused on the creation of a horror short called Coven. This provides a sort of meta-connection to the genre as it is a movie about the making of a horror film. Because of this, you get to see quite a bit of content that is horror-adjacent as he frames up horror scenes and discusses what goes into the making of horror along with some of his own takes on the genre. You also get quite a bit of backstory on Mark and as a horror fan, a lot of his old shorts are horror as well. If nothing else, this is related because it is a documentary with horror content included. That’s interesting.


Tone - The tone of this documentary is genuine and it is aggressively bleak, to say the least. Mark is a fascinating guy and it is very easy to sympathize with his situation and root for him from early on in the film. But man, oh man, this is an adult fears type of watch. The whole documentary drips with a melancholy and bleakness because all of the characters appear to be stuck in seemingly perpetual cycle of nothing going on. This is something we can all identify with, but if you find depressing subject matter uncomfortable, this one will probably throw you for a loop. While there are a ton of entertaining and endearing qualities to the people on screen, when the credits roll, it’s hard to walk away feeling good.


A Note on Quotability

This is one of the most quotable movies I have ever seen. Mark and Mike are both hilarious and endearing bastards. If nothing else, you get an interesting documentary that has some horror material and a lot of quotes you can look forward to using in the future.


RATINGS (1-10)

I’m not going to do that for this movie. It’s pretty impossible to use our (objectively perfect) rating system that we use to grade horror movies on a documentary that is only tangentialy related to horror. If you think that’s taking the easy way out then go listen to the podcast because we did it there and it was dumb as hell.

I recommend watching this film. Just understand what it is before doing so. and don’t @ me about it not being horror because I know it’s not horror so stop telling me it’s not horror, ok?