The best way to describe Phantom Project (Proyecto Fantasma) is that it’s a gentle slice-of-life movie about the disconnect between how we act and what we need to say but don’t. It’s only fitting that it should focus on a cadre of actors and performers struggling to figure out their lives.
Phantom Project begins with Pablo, a struggling actor running simulations with a health clinic, as his roommate moves out, leaving him with a dog and numerous plants. Part of the reason for this is Pablo’s claims of a ghost wreaking havoc in the apartment. Dealing with the ghost leads Pablo to interact with a series of people around him including his neighbor, an aspiring musician and eventually one of his own acting heroes. As Pablo works to get over his ex—a former classmate turned YouTube star—the people around him likewise build the confidence they need to move their lives forward.
When a certain kind of tenderqueer talks about their desire for more ‘wholesome’ queer films, I suspect they are discussing a film like Phantom Project. Despite the inclusion of a ghost, and typical tropes of its respective genre like shattering mugs and plates, there’s very little horror or dread to be found. Instead, the presence of the apportion gently pushes the haunted into working on themselves. There are no life-shattering mistakes, and not much catharsis. The stakes of the film feel remarkably low. The ghost itself isn’t a force for harm or generational trauma as much as it represents a force of change which gently pushes the unseen desires of the haunted into the light.
When a certain kind of tenderqueer talks about their desire for more ‘wholesome’ queer films, I suspect they are discussing a film like Phantom Project.
Phantom Project’s real interest seems to be in crafting a broad portrait of a queer community existing in the present, and the potential futures of Chile’s queer youth as they might unfold. One of the joys of a film like this is watching queer people just interacting with each other, as in the scene where Pablo and his friends discuss the ghost and what it might want. They talk about the vibes the ghost might give off, as well as enthusiastically reciting the account of a woman who claimed she had sex with a ghost. It’s in these moments that the film manages to capture the everyday experiences of young queer people working towards their goals. That, coupled with one of the most inventive experimental ghost designs in years, makes Phantom Project one to add to your viewing calendar if you want something light and fun.
One of the most pressing questions in film these days is how to approach the ongoing pandemic. Up until this point, the ongoing trauma has been incredibly difficult to put on screen. We are still living in a pandemic and are only now just starting to see an emerging genre of pandemic-focused media. Follow The Protocol (Seguindo Todos os Protocolos) is a worthy addition to this growing collection of stories because it prioritizes individual experience over collective ones. In particular, it understands the strange and often incredibly awkward loneliness that comes from self-isolation after months of lockdown, be it by order of the government, or in the case of Francisco, the protagonist of the film,’s case, entirely self-enacted.
The film follows Francisco through a collection of hookups after being dumped over Zoom call by his Carnaval fling turned pandemic romance. As a bear coming out of hibernation, he reflects on issues of boundaries, intimacies, and how they clash with the raw animal lust he feels. Indeed, Follow The Protocol is at its best when it explores the conflicts of intimacy brought up by a disconnection between technology and flesh, as during the 15-minute Zoom call which sets the plot into motion.
Through the low-budget setting, director and actor Fabio Leal is able to capture the intimacy and painfully awkward experience of a digital breakup. Francisco practically begs his soon-to-be-ex to take off his shirt, after which the ex tries to explain his thoughts on the end of their relationship through a song so painful the film cuts away before it even begins. Soon after, Francisco looks up digital photos of his ex and zooms in to see the scratch marks he left long ago, longing for a body long gone. While the lust is still there, the boundary is insurmountable.
Through the low-budget setting, director and actor Fabio Leal is able to capture the intimacy and painfully awkward experience of a digital breakup.
Rather than making Francisco a wholly moral character, committed to following the protocols solely to protect those around him, the film slowly reveals how this desire existed long before the pandemic, and will likely continue on even if things “return to normal.” COVID merely acts as gasoline on the bonfire that is the personality of an anxious neurotic queer, desperately trying to control everything around himself.
While much of the post-hookup pillow talk strains the film’s runtime, Follow The Protocol is a fascinating look into how the pandemic failed to change people’s personalities as much as it exacerbated the pre-existing neurosis of everyone who’s lived through it.♦
Phantom Project premieres at Frameline Film Festival on June 17.
Follow The Protocol premieres at Frameline Film Festival on June 16.