Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

January 27, 1998


When Dr. Jenny Pailey (Joanna Going from Inventing the Abbots) and her sister Lisa (Rose McGowan) return to Snowfield, CO, they assume that they're in for a little bit of peace and quiet. The town is even quieter than they expected. Every living creature in the town is either missing or dead. The few bodies that are left don't offer much of a clue to their deaths. The local sheriff (Ben Affleck) shows up to answer a distress call, but he and his deputies aren't much help. In fact, the deputies end up being two of the casualties of the mysterious force. Some scientists sent by the federal government fly in to help, but they wind up dead, too.

The outcome for Phantoms is often self-evident, even if you haven't read Dean Koontz's book. Fortunately, much of what worked about the book shows up on the screen. In fact, some of film's deviations (Koontz also wrote the script) are actually improvements. For example, the new ending is darker, but a lot more fun. Koontz also sheds a goofy subplot involving a crazed murder that, while entertaining, got distracting. Koontz's eye for story construction is still intact. The movie moves like a rocket. In addition, he doesn't dumb down novel's historical references or the technical details.

Koontz's framework is intact, but his instinct for character, which made even the most clichéd of passages compelling, doesn't always translate. With only a few seconds to flesh each individual out, some characters, like the two leads suffer. Affleck is OK as the sheriff, but his back story seems a bit detailed for someone of his age. Two of the supporting players, however, emerge with their vitality intact. Peter O'Toole does ham it up a bit as the burned out former Oxford professor who knows the secret of the town's fate, but he's still a joy to watch. His voice and his screen presence are commanding, and he projects the right note of weariness. Nonetheless, he and the rest of the cast are upstaged by Liev Schrieber (Scream 2). As Affleck's antagonistic sidekick, Schrieber is alternately buffoonish and threatening. Because it never can be ascertained where he's really dangerous, he's far more engaging than some of the simpler protagonists.

Director Joe Chappelle (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) goes a bit overboard with some of the shadows, and the color photography often looks flat. To his credit, he downplays some of the special effects, giving the creature scenes a bit more suspense.

Phantoms isn't the most original or consistent thriller. But when it works it's proof that there are a few genuine screen chills left (R). Rating: 6.




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