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Another Hole In The Head 2010: Phasma Ex Machina

By  · Published on July 13th, 2010

The seventh annual Another Hole In the Head Film Festival is currently running in San Francisco from July 8th through the 29th. It’s a genre fest featuring domestic and international horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films, and it just may be the first and last chance to see some of these on the big-screen. There are thirty-two films at the fest this year, and we’re trying to see and cover as many as possible. (And by we I mean me…)

Phasma Ex Machina – directed by Matt Osterman, USA; upcoming screenings 7/24 9pm, 7/28 9pm

Synopsis: Two brothers are left alone after the death of their parents in a car crash, and they struggle to go on with their lives. The older brother’s custody rights are challenged as his inexperience and grief leads to some irresponsible decisions. That same grief leads to something even more dangerous as he applies his mechanical and electrical abilities to a theory of his own design… an electrical device that can return the dead to the land of the living. The good news is the machine works (kind of). The bad news is his parents may not be the ones coming back.

Check out our review after the jump…

Review: In a festival filled with scantily clad Asian death dealers, armed and violent transvestites, and newborn porn, it’s an unexpected pleasure finding a simple but effective little ghost story. We meet Cody (Sasha Andreev) and his younger brother James (Max Hauser) as they’re burying their parents and then immediately settle in with them to a new life that neither of them are comfortable with. James buries himself in solitude and video games while Cody’s grief manifests itself as a refusal to let his parents go. The film’s low budget and focus on dialogue makes the movie seem like a supernatural version of Shane Carruth’s Primer, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The movie works for a few reasons, but we’ll start with Andreev’s performance as the overwhelmed older brother. Most of the cast do an acceptable job here, but Andreev is fantastic as the heart and energy of the film. His feelings of grief and the sense that he has no idea how to take care of his brother’s needs play across his face and trembling voice and we feel lost right alongside him. Less successful on the acting front are an elderly couple that I’m sure are very nice people… but they are terrible actors. They hurt the film too because at least one of their scenes is meant to be more powerful than it ends up being. The film also has some genuinely creepy scenes involving the machine’s success (or failure, depending on how you look at it), and some additional emotion and drama from a widowed neighbor who feels the machine’s effect as well.

The idea of a ‘ghost from the machine’ isn’t a new one, but unlike many other movies on the subject Osterman’s film focuses more on the loss and desperation one feels after losing a loved one than on the scares and terrors of their eventual return. That’s not saying Phasma Ex Machina doesn’t have it’s fair share of chill-inducing scenes. It does, and they work beautifully, but they’re not of the violent and shocking Paranormal Activity variety. These are scares of what you once had and of what you may still lose. And of what’s walking around in your basement…

Check out the complete festival schedule here.

And check out the rest of our festival coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.