At the beginning of the delightfully dark short film, FANTÔME, there’s a sense that there’s a really rude fucking ghost is in Françoise’s house. The short opens with her making pretty sweet love to her husband, when suddenly low, raspy breathing begins to emanate from her closet, accompanied by a nightmarish face. But being the badass she is, Françoise finishes, and we’re sent careening into the next day. Françoise looks out into her neighbors window and sees this staring back at her:

Dear god what is that?!

I’m still not sure I know what that is. Okay, I do, but all I really know is, I hate that thing. And yet Françoise is all too eager to bolt over to her neighbors, break in, and search for it. After looking in maybe one cupboard, Françoise finds herself gleefully playing house: She tries on her neighbors red dress, wandering around the house, and ending up in one of the children’s beds. Only then does she realize she’s not alone — in fact, she’s frightened into her neighbor’s daughter into hiding from her in the closet, her low, panicked breath calling back to the labored breathing we heard at the beginning of the short. When her neighbor stops by to check in on her, we learn that Françoise’s lost her son, presumably due to some kind of illness and the source of the low, raspy breathing becomes all too clear. I’d prefer you watch the whole thing instead of giving away the ending — it’s really well worth the watch.

Like many ghost stories, FANTÔME is a tense, haunting look look into confronting the things that we’ve lost. What’s lovely about this story is that explores the things we think we’ve lost as well. Unlike many stories about women who lose their children, Françoise seemingly still has a pretty healthy physical relationship with her husband, and her neighbor waxes on about there still being life in their relationship — but Françoise still throws herself into the fantasy of someone else’s life to avoid the trauma of losing her son. It’s a welcome narrative that explores the edges beyond the typical bereaved mother trope, and is objectively terrifying in the process.

FANTÔME was written and directed by Erica Orofino and screened at the Bloody Mary Film Festival.

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