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Decent special effects and one stand-out villain cannot save hackneyed supernatural thriller, “American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet”.

Written and directed by Eddie Lengyel, American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet tells the story of two young women, Alice and Lauren, who steal a shrunken head from an occult shop and soon experience the cursed item’s deadly wrath. Through playing a game with the shrunken head per the instructions that came in the box, Alice and Lauren (along with their friends and the host of a paranormal radio show) unleash an evil spirit known as Lilith Ratchet.

With her sharp-toothed smile and claw-like fingers, Lilith takes perverse delight in picking off the characters one by one, sometimes mutilating their bodies or making their deaths seem like suicides or accidents. If Alice and Lauren can figure out a way to stop Lilith’s curse from spreading, then maybe they can save themselves from falling victim to the entity’s violent rampages.

If the above description of this film sounds appealing, you might want to give director Eddie Lengyel’s supernatural thriller a shot; however, be forewarned that you are entering into some deeply low-brow territory.

American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet comes with its own quirky charm and a memorable villain, but offers little else in terms of originality, suspense, and horror. Among all of the film’s problems, the screenplay might be the worst offender: the dialogue is poorly written and unrealistic, forcing the actors to adopt the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and behaviors of hokey soap-opera-like characters.

Due most likely to the limited script and smaller budget, the film places its principal characters in situations that make little sense and ultimately turn the movie into more of a comedy. Without the driving force of a coherent or suspenseful plot, and without characters who act and speak realistically, the movie falls flat from almost the very start.

However, despite all the drawbacks to the film, The Curse of Lilith Ratchet does have some impressive moments and I’m sure many horror fans out there will be able to appreciate the time, effort, and creative expense that everyone involved in the project put forth. For these reasons, the following review will avoid over-analyzing the film’s faults and instead focus on those aspects of the picture that are worth noting.

Two death sequences in the film — one inside a young woman’s bathtub and the other lit only by the glare of a flashlight — are exceptionally shot and well-performed by the actors. Director Lengyel and cinematographer Greg Kraus clearly have talent and passion, and in these two sequences their ability to heighten the suspense and tension of a scene is on full display.

In the bathtub scene, Lauren (played effectively by Brianna Burke) is terrorized by the spirit of Lilith Ratchet in a drawn-out sequence that is playfully sinister and dark. In the latter scene, as the demonic villain slashes her razor-sharp nails across the victim’s face, shadows envelop the horror of the moment, an effect that amplifies the terror and the solid special effects by William M. Johns.

While these two scenes might not be enough for viewers to stick with The Curse of Lilith Ratchet for its entirety, they do demonstrate that the creative team behind the film has dedication to their craft, suggesting that their next project (hopefully one with a smarter script) might take them to greater heights.

Despite the awkward script, some of the performances in the film are strong, including the aforementioned Burke and KateLynn E. Newberry as Alice. However, the most important element of the film, and the one that gives the movie its primary saving grace, is the villain of Lilith Ratchet herself. Played with menacing relish by Crissy Kolarik, Lilith Ratchet glides through each scene like a threatening specter, her grin as deadly as her slicing fingernails and crushing blows.

Although she may resemble other supernatural killers from films such as The Woman in Black or The Conjuring, Lilith has an eerie style, appearance, and wardrobe all her own. All of the scenes that feature her character (and there are several) are entertaining and delightfully gory.

The Curse of Lilith Ratchet has a lot of problems, especially with its faulty storytelling and ham-fisted dialogue; most viewers would probably agree that the actors and director deserve more mature, more engaging material to work with. But the film promises better things to come from all involved — and for a low-budget, indie horror film, that is an impressive step in the right direction.

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