December 5, 2013

50 States, 50 Movies: Phantoms (1998; Colorado)

Directed by Joe Chappelle. Starring Peter O'Toole ("Dr. Timothy Flyte"), Rose McGowan ("Lisa Pailey"), Joanna Going ("Jennifer Pailey, M.D."), and Liev Schreiber ("Deputy Stuart 'Stu' Wargle"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Dimension/Buena Vista)
Running time: 01:35:57
Country: USA, Japan

PHANTOMS is  one of those movies that I associate with the post-SCREAM movement that took place in the late 90s, but that entirely has to do with the fact that it was released by Miramax and has one of those stupid "floating head" posters, which pretty much solely consist of the movies' titles in big lettering and glamour shots of the actors. I'd never seen it prior to watching it for this review, but I've heard from numerous sources that Ben Affleck is the bomb in it. That, however, wasn't enough of a selling point for me to go out of my way to check it out. My interest in this one has always been non-existent despite my fondness for a lot of the post-SCREAM movies, but I had to bite the bullet since there aren't a lot of horror movies that take place (and were filmed in) Colorado. Plus, I never read the Dean Koontz novel that it's based on.

Right away, PHANTOMS feels like a straight-to-video movie as we're introduced to the two lead characters (and sisters), Jennifer and Lisa, as they arrive in a small Colorado town to find empty streets and dead bodies. I can't exactly point out why this feels like a straight-to-video movie, but it does. And this is in spite of the fact that it opens with beautiful establishing shots of Colorado's mountainous terrain and features talented actors like Liev Schreiber, Peter O'Toole, and Ben Affleck. Something about the quality of this film just feels like its lacking. Plus, Rose McGowan is in it. Speaking of which, McGowan plays the bratty but tough Lisa, who's reluctantly visiting her older sister Jennifer - a doctor-in-training who's based out of the quiet Colorado town.

Something I can't accuse PHANTOMS of is taking too long to get the ball rolling. The film wastes no time in setting everything up and showing us the goods. As far as the film giving us answers, though, is another story, but I'll get to that later. As soon as the sisters arrive in town, they're finding corpses everywhere and there's inherently an overwhelming sense of dread and confusion. The town's residents seem to have perished due to unexplained circumstances because of how their bodies are discovered. Even the cops are dead. Luckily, as the sisters wander around town and try to find some answers (and help) and Lisa inexplicably proves she knows how to load a shotgun, they bump into three cops who were sent from another town to investigate, one of whom is a Sheriff played by Ben Affleck. Giant moth attacks ensue, disembodied voices are heard through drains, and a bunch of military guys in chem suits eventually show up.

Going back and watching PHANTOMS now is interesting, and this is usually the case when I go back and watch films from the mid to late 90s in general. A lot of actors who are major stars now got their breaks back then, and such is the case with Affleck in PHANTOMS and even Liev Schreiber to a lesser degree. Of course Schreiber starred in the first couple of SCREAM movies and has since proven that he's not a snob when it comes to starring in genre films, but he's fortunately found himself in a position these days where he's able to branch out and take on meatier roles. Also appearing in PHANTOMS as one of the cops alongside Affleck and Schreiber is one of my favorite character actors, Nicky Katt, who was also in DAZED AND CONFUSED with Affleck. At the very least, it's cool to see those actors in a movie like this. Had I watched this just for Nicky Katt, however, I would've been disappointed, and I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, if the first nine or ten minutes of this was any indicator, I knew it was gonna be terrible. I held on to hope that PHANTOMS would overcome its crappy writing and weak attempts at being suspenseful and turn into something decent, but alas it didn't. There's ultimately an Eco-Horror slant to what's going on, which is cool, but the film blurs the line between intellectual horror and coming across as being not as smart as it thinks it is, and personally there was too much of a disconnect between myself and the film due to the lack of context we get for the threat that looms over the characters, which goes back to what I said about the film taking its sweet-ass time to explain what's going on. It isn't until the very end that we get some decent special-effects sequences in the form of THING-esque Body Horror moments and spectacular exploding head, but it's already too late by that point; overall, it feels very paint-by-numbers, the actors seemed bored, and it's as enjoyable is a dry handjob.

Score: 5

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