Phantom Halo is a story of abuse and love lost in the maelstrom of broken dreams, promises and hope. The film focuses centrally on two brothers, Samuel and Beckett, as they struggle through a life that revolves around scamming, scheming and clinging onto the few joys they have left, while supporting an alcoholic father who gambles and drinks more than they can bring in. However, when Beckett encounters an old friend, he stumbles into an opportunity that could free him from the hopelessness that clings to him…and provide a love affair to redeem him. However, with trouble pursuing his father, can he make the right choices to save not merely himself…but the broken family he once cherished?

Directed by Antonia Bogdanovich, daughter of famed New Hollywood director Peter Bogdanovich, you can feel a similar reverence for both a cinematic and cultural past shared between them. This most noticeable in the sheer, and quite frankly, strange flow of reference in the film’s discourse: Shakespearean literature, comic book heroism, and particularly cinematic genre hopping frequent the landscape and texture of the film. It is at once a family drama…a crime caper…a buddy comedy…existential inquiry… a cross generational romance…there are even shades of classic Sirkian melodrama and later film noir (the sun bleached starkness of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown leaps from the lighting and colour tones) around Rebecca Romjin’s character and her environment; at once lavish, but really a space that reflects her inward fragility and sense of imprisonment in the life build around her. Unquestionably, the sheer volume of styles and ideas brought together is admirable in its attempt to create a reflective and textured world. However, it’s execution in relation to film as a complete whole proves misguided, as the film struggles to cohere and pushes so broadly as to lose any of the genre charms it aspires to.

In spite of Bogdanovich’s bricolage of reference and obvious desire to weave an emotionally rich tapestry, the film is disappointingly flat. There is no dynamism to proceedings, each scene moving between characters and styles not with impact, but with a jarring sense of incompatibility, like forcing jigsaw pieces into the wrong place. Its motion between high drama, violence and comedy doesn’t feel real or engaging, but oxymoronically excessive and listless at once; a strange sense that really drains the film, and for all the obvious texture built into it, makes you feel like you are never truly looking deeply into these characters, even when the narrative is trying to screaming at their complexities. This odd and muted tone is only reinforced by the score, which drags the film further away from any lofty goals through the sheer force of its obviousness. Every musical shift, from folksy instrumentals over any single emotional keynote, to hip hop inspired beats in a sequence where two characters indulge in a spending spree, feels so painfully manipulative and delivered ham-fistedly, that you can’t help but be detached from the events they are bound to.

One area of redemption within Phantom Halo comes in the shape of the central performances. As the brothers at the heart of the tale, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Samuel) and Luke Klientank (Beckett) share real chemistry as embattled brothers, able to articulate the strength of their connection, in both moments of quiet closeness and friction as they clash. In particular, Klientank is able to perfectly convey the quiet intensity of a man who has been forced to play hard…while he buries a frustration over the loss of innocence that threatens to spill over in raw emotion, and inevitably does in a tender sequence between him and Ms.Rose, played by Rebecca Romijn with poise and brooding sexuality in a fantastic homage to the female stars of the 1950’s. It is just a shame that the performances become swept up within the ill-advised frisson of excessive narrative and stylistic decisions.

Phantom Halo is undermined by its failure to find any degree of focus. Jumping between different styles, tones and narrative drives, in spite of the efforts of a solid and dedicated cast that it ultimately never finds a true identity and, apt in titular irony, becomes a mere phantom; spread so thinly between ideas and emotional paths that no weight clings to it, and the film, anchorless, drifts away into a vast sea of obscurity.

DVD Review: Phantom Halo
2.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk