Reviews: Phantom Halo

Andrew reviews the recently released Phantom Halo.

"Don't you go giving my movie
a bad review, son."
It’s a given that great directors don’t always bestow their filmmaking gifts unto their offspring.  Where those like Sofia Coppola have managed to set themselves apart from their paternal influences, others like Jennifer Lynch can’t help but live in the shadow of their father’s career.  Such is the case with Phantom Halo, the writing-directing debut of Peter Bogdanovich’s daughter Antonia, which aspires to be everything The Last Picture Show was while ultimately coming up with even less than The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

A confused and undercooked crime drama about a family consisting of an alcoholic father and his two pickpocketing sons struggling to pay off insurmountable debts as dad continues to blow their cash on more booze, it’s a tonal mess that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be.  Is it about an abusive father, a counterfeit scheme or unspoken mafia lingo?  Before you have a moment to settle into one genre, it abruptly shifts to another via yet another schmaltzy montage set to cringe inducing Christian rock and faux gangster-rap.  It wouldn’t be so jarring if it weren’t so damn inconsistent.

Wanting to be another coming-of-age teenage drama about familial hardship and optimism in the face of adversity via one’s escapist devotion to the comic book, I was taken aback by just how much this film copied Altar Boys, both in content and corniness.  The manipulative sentimentality and farcical plot developments of Altar Boys and Phantom Halo (a completely misleading title by the way) almost seem spoken of the same breath and when the forced moments attempting to tug at your heartstrings come they barely register.  I kept looking for reasons to care about the characters even after the closing credits despite the halfway decent performances here.  The cast is largely solid with Rebecca Romjin still pretty to look at despite the role being ultimately thankless and Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from Saw fame) has fun with his mobster cameo appearance.  Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Samuel, an innocent teen obsessed with a comic book superhero named Phantom Halo, holds his own against his older brother Beckett (Luke Kleintank) and their drunken father Warren (Sebastian Roche).  The problem is their talents are underutilized with performances that are serviceable but largely go through the motions thanks to the mediocrity of the script.

"Now you really pissed off your mom.
She told you not to give it a bad review.
You're grounded."
More than halfway into Phantom Halo, which felt like forever despite only being 87 minutes, I asked myself when something interesting and/or new was going to happen.  We’ve seen this movie demonstrated before in infinitely better alternative examples you could follow and buy into despite occasional contrivances.  Here, it’s all over the place and while not as patently absurd as Altar Boys, it comes pretty close in moments.  At the very least, Altar Boys explored the need for escapist entertainment in the face of personal hardship where this one only goes as far as, well, that must be what teenagers are into.  It’s a pity neither movie really works because in both there’s a worthwhile story capable of being told as a compelling picture.  But if I had to pick between one film or another, I’d choose The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.  Whether it worked or not, it managed to hold my attention with a protagonist you could empathize with.  It was a struggle, on the other hand, to stay even remotely invested in Phantom Halo.  


-Andrew Kotwicki

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