Friday, May 08, 2020

Phantom Mary – review

Director: Aniello De Angelis

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Phantom Mary is an odd one and the, substantial, write up that the director gives us on the film’s Vimeo page does allow us an insight into his thoughts around the film he made. For example, he calls the film the equivalent of shoegaze, describing it as “a film with heavy distortion layered over a simple pop song”.

And this it is, but there are multiple ways I believe you can read the film, though De Angelis lays out a few in his description, which I’ll touch on later into the review.

Hanna White as Mary
A man, Jo (Aniello De Angelis), walks into his apartment. He can see a woman, Mary (Hanna White), knelt before a bookcase. He goes straight into the kitchen and puts a plate into his microwave. Once warmed, he empties a bag of cocaine onto the plate and chops it into lines. Walking into the living room, where Mary now reads a book, he announces that he has brought breakfast.

Luis Borges' collection
Mary politely declines and explains that she had encouraged him to go out and get the drugs because he seemed so eager to have them. He does indeed snort the drugs as she reads from the book by Jorge Luis Borges. Whilst it has come from his bookcase, he’s never read any of the book. She claims she knew Borges (it is 2018, and the author died in 1986) eliciting a comment about her being older than she looks. Jo wants to show her something and takes her up to the roof, somewhere he rarely goes as it is a place to be shared.

His nose starts to bleed and he slumps, she reaches towards him… they are in the bathroom and the bleed has been bad. You can tell she is distracted by the blood. Eventually she leaves the room and, in the kitchen, we see her expose her fangs, though the shot is deliberately blurry. She goes to dial 911, but stops and returns to the bathroom. She bites him before leaving the apartment. She walks in the shade, deliberately avoiding the sun (later she will say it hurts) until a car picks her up.

wings removed
We see her in a room, a man (the driver) with her and she kneels, her top removed and white wings on her back. This was the one part of the film I disliked, not the religious aspect, but the wings looked too small and fake for what was trying to be put across. The man brandishes a knife and cuts the wings off – the sfx of the wounds was well done. Of course, we have had the conflation of vampires and angels in several pieces. Who was the man? We’re not told. Is Mary a fallen angel, or at least a maimed and grounded one? Yes and no, and as the film goes on we see figures tempting her as she tries to pray, she suggests she hasn’t heard *him* for some time and she admits she doesn’t remember if Mary is her name.

blood at mouth
This is almost unimportant because of the primary ways that this text can be interpreted, and I’ll hand that explanation to the director: “I think there are many ways to watch Phantom Mary – a bleak romance, an vampire allegory for addiction, a conversation between two sides of a bipolar episode, an examination into the origins of violence and their inescapable cycles among many others.

Jo fanged
Mary encounters Jo again and he is now like her – though she called it saving his life. However Jo is on a path of self-destruction and, even when they are happy, he is essentially a dick to her – or to himself, perhaps. He is addicted to addiction, frustrated eventually as she keeps herself pure but, after manipulating her towards sex, can’t find it in himself to betray her that way and so betrays her in so many other ways instead. The film follows their broken down, dysfunctional relationship but it is that relationship – and the fact that the actors bounce of each other so well – that keeps you watching.

tears of blood
There is a big ol’ addiction allegory at the centre of this. There is the abuses it can bring but also a revelling in the moments of high between the down. There is a moment where it introspectively looks at those that are lost entirely due to their addiction but then celebrates being addicted within the next moment and it offers a nihilism to the viewer, which the doomed relationship rides to its conclusion. The vampirism, the theism, the mythologizing all sits within the film, sometimes held at arm’s length, sometimes drawn into sharp relief, but always unexplained, left to the viewer to interpret. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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