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April 30, 2023

Did I miss the point, or is Phenomena just the non-scariest movie of them all?

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Starring: Belen Rueda, Gracia Olayo, Toni Acosta

Directed by: Carlos Therón


Friends, I will watch anything horror once, including the abysmal The Nun and The Curse Of La Llorona from The Conjuring universe; but barring anything zombie-related, because that’s too much gross to stomach for 90 minutes or more.

Saying that, sometimes I regret all the choices I made that lead to me to watching cinematic ‘whatevers’ like Phenomena. Said choices involve seeing the film popping up as up and coming on Netflix, and believing the premise was quite good. Or at least, the premise combines two things I love most: supernatural horror and mystery.

The trailer points us to three older ghosthunters, including one psychic, one documenter, and one who joined the others’ pursuits when she met them after her husband’s demise. The gang is led by Father Pilon, a priest, who is loved and respected by the three women.

One unfortunate night, Father Pilon goes solo to investigate the inexplicable occurrences at an antique store, and is attacked by an entity, which his frail, aging body cannot handle, and he enters a coma.

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Sagrario, the widow, Gloria the medium, and Paz the cameraman decide to investigate the store themselves, to see why such a brutal attack had been carried out against their beloved leader.

Gloria and Sagrario tend to riff a bit, as the latter has begged the former to connect her with her husband’s spirit for 15 years now, but for some reason, Gloria, who is clearly a gifted medium, has failed to establish a connection.

To be extremely fair to Phenomena, it has its moments. It has all the typical elements of supernatural horror, with things appearing in strange places, doors flying open, chandeliers threatening to fall and reveal Shanti Priya’s corpse, and a little girl in danger. Those are fun bits. That’s why we pick the genre we pick: it excites us, thrills us, entertains us, and is just so satisfying for reasons you cannot explain, nor want to, because why we find a genre that is meant to be terrifying, soothing, isn’t a can of worms we should necessarily open.

But threading together jump scares and disturbing self-harm with an otherwise so-so story is not satisfying, nor thrilling. Accounting for what is lost in dubbing, the storyline may be good, but the way it has been written isn’t very strong. While we are joining the ghost busting trio at a very midpoint in their lives, it isn’t unheard of to require a little more context. The group keeps mentioning a previous case, a sore spot with Gloria, while they explore the current one. Three mentions and a news clipping of one case in the past do not suffice as foundation for the story that is being told in the present day. Without stronger context, ultimately the twist, if you can call it that, isn’t as impactful as perhaps the writers and director would have hoped for. You can watch Phenomena and enjoy it for it is if you’re not a regular viewer or fan of horror, or are simply going in with very low expectations anyway.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing

**** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

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