Courtesy Chattanooga Film Festival

Roberto DoverisPHANTOM PROJECT presents a comedy focusing on the in-between. His characters exist between the Millennial and Gen-Z generations, between their youth and adulthood, between relationships, and even between life and death. The story looks at young artistic Chileans (cast mostly by friends of the director) as they navigate the intersection between life and art, success, hardships, and social media.

Pablo (Juan Cano), a 20-year-old aspiring actor, finds himself struggling in many aspects of his life. He works as a role-playing performer for a medical school when he would prefer actual roles in films. His ex-boyfriend is now a big-time Youtuber and catching the attention and hearts of many (including Pablo). They try to maintain a platonic friendship with well-stated boundaries, but Pablo obviously wants more. And his roommate recently moved out, leaving Pablo unpaid rent, a dog, and a haunted cardigan. The characters are likable, and while the drama of Pablo’s life never hits the level of extraordinary, the quotidian issues such as bills, parents, and dating strike a familiar enough chord with the Millennial and Gen Z audiences to keep them watching.

The “Phantom” part of the story appears gradually at first with certain items falling or an unexplainable mess in the kitchen, but when the spirit actually manifests, we get a treat in brilliant directorial choices. The image of the ghost takes on a very different appearance than what horror fans are used to. Instead of a see-through image of a person or a shadowy apparition, Pablo’s spectral roomie looks like a collection of unfinished pencil sketches. As its shape first navigates through the house, the outline cycles through several manifestations almost as if it exists as a collection of unfinished ideas. One really unique scene involves a sexual encounter with the ghost (think more Ghostbusters’ blow job and less sexy pottery Ghost scene) which took me down a whole internet rabbit hole of people claiming to have had sex with ghosts. However, once I realized the supernatural intercourse scene existed as the climax, I soon lost interest in the remaining portion of the film.

Aesthetically, the film hits some high notes, but the really revolutionary visuals occur too infrequently in the movie to make the project really stand out. Maybe this reflects more on my interests, but if the ghost or Susan the dog was not on screen, I struggled to stay engaged with the story after the halfway point or so. And while I loved the character of Pablo and wanted to see more development within his life and his relationship with the ghost, the director chooses to focus his attention elsewhere.

Throughout the film, more and more minor characters become introduced and how their lives intertwine with Pablo’s takes precedence over the initial story. I do not completely understand this choice in narrative because while the subplots might have intended to develop Pablo’s character, they proved more of a distraction than a benefit. But perhaps the haphazard approach to the storytelling is meant to imitate real life. The trajectory of Pablo’s life (like so many of ours) continues to disconnect from his envisioned future and instead create a spider web of connections.

Whimsical and creative when it comes to the phantom’s appearance and its interaction with Pablo, the film struggles to visually tell the story. PHANTOM PROJECT holds a bit of appeal in its cuteness, but the story, character development, and even the ghost fail to reach a more transcendent level.

PHANTOM PROJECT played as a part of the 2022 Chattanooga Film Festival.

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