There's much that's conventional about "Phantoms," a Dean Koontz tale of supernatural terror, but it does develop lofty intellectual ambitions and boasts a dry, witty performance by Peter O'Toole that lifts the level of the film beyond the routine. It should fill the bill for audiences looking for some thrills and chills once they've seen "Scream 2," but it's less than gripping for those of us who aren't among Koontz's legions of fans.
Adapted by Koontz from his novel and directed crisply by Joe Chappelle, "Phantoms" wastes no time in laying on the horror. A doctor, Jenny Pailey (Joanna Going), living in a lovely Victorian village in the mountains of Colorado, is driving home with her L.A.-based sister Lisa (Rose McGowan), who will be staying for a visit. Once inside her home, she finds her housekeeper dead on her kitchen floor and her phone out of order.
It swiftly becomes clear that the sisters; Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck), the local sheriff; and a couple of his deputies (Liev Schreiber, Nicky Katt) are the only living people in a town of 400 people.
"Phantoms" pulls out all the tricks in the supernatural horror repertoire--screeching sounds, flashes of light, intermittent power failures, monsters and a slew of gory and dazzling special effects--but doesn't come into focus until O'Toole's Timothy Flyte, an authority on ancient epidemics, enters the picture.
Flyte--the only character with much personality and individuality--theorizes that some form of life has surfaced with the capacity to assume or inhabit any other form and to absorb all knowledge possessed by humans.
This leads to debates over the sources of good and evil, and the role ego plays in this destructive force. Flyte's declarations and analyses get awfully technical for the layman, and the amorphous quality of this force of evil has the effect of making the film seem vague and elusive.
Well-crafted in most aspects, "Phantoms" is finally more ambitious than satisfying. It also could have used more humor. But it can't be accused of insulting the intelligence of its audiences.
* MPAA rating: R, for sci-fi violence/gore and language. Times guidelines: The film's violence and gore are standard for the genre while the language is on the strong side.
Peter O'Toole: Timothy Flyte
Rose McGowan: Lisa Pailey
Joanna Going: Jenny Pailey
Ben Affleck: Sheriff Bryce Hammond
Liev Schreiber: Deputy Stu
A Dimension Films presentation of a Neo Motion Pictures production in association with Rave House, Inc. Director Joe Chappelle. Producers Joel Soisson, Michael Leahy, Robert Pringle, Steve Lane. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Dean Koontz. Screenplay by Dean Koontz; based on his novel. Cinematographer Richard Clabaugh. Visual effects consultants Richard Greenberg, Bruce Schulter. Editor Randolph K. Bricker. Costumes Dana C. Litwack. Music David Williams. Production designers Deborah Raymond & Dorian Vernacchio. Art directors Daniel Bradford, Ken Larson. Set designer Jack Bishop. Set decorator Barbara Cole Kaye. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
* In general release.