A film about straight rough trade victimizing gay men, Sebastián Lojo’s debut feature Los Fantasmas looks great and feels authentic, but fails to capitalize on its loaded premise. The first Guatemalan production to compete at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the story follows Koki (Marvin Navas), a handsome and charismatic thief who seduces unsuspecting men and later robs them at a hotel where his middle-aged friend Carlos (Carlos Morales El Punisher) works.
Ostensibly a double character study about two men doing what they gotta to do survive in a violent urban sprawl, the storytelling suffers from a constant sense of vagueness – there’s far too little backstory into who these people are and how this arrangement was set up. The opening segment hints at Carlos’ double life as a wrestler, but fails to develop this as an actual plot line. Clocking in at a mere 71 minutes (without credits), it’s one of those rare times a film leaves you begging for more, but in the wrong way.
Some of it works, though – Lojos creates an atmosphere that alternates between dreamy and nightmarish, and the acting is understated and excellent. The most powerful segment comes late in the film with a backwards tracking shot through the streets of Guatemala City at night while a haunting Korean cover of “Cucurucucu Paloma” plays, but even this moment of beauty leaves an weird aftertaste. (mild spoiler alert) Are we supposed to be sympathizing with one of these incredibly unsympathetic characters now that he’s had a small taste of his own medicine? The whole thing is rather odd and dissatisfying, but strangely enough, we can’t wait to see what Lojos does next.
Los Fantasmas premiered last Friday at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)