Angel of Music (2009)

     directed by John Woosley

          starring Doug Kisgen, Lisa J. Mader, and Jordan Baranowski

This is one of the most legendary absolute wrecks in the world of films based on the Phantom story, and it deserves that reputation, but before we get into that, let’s talk about its checkered history for a moment.

 

Angel of Music was originally conceived of as a period adaptation of the original novel, advertised as being more faithful to Leroux’s work than any other film had been to date. It achieved some modest crowdfunding success for the project in large part because, unlike any other film before it, it directly reached out and catered to fans of the story. The director frequently posted and corresponded online in various fan communities, hyping up his movie and encouraging fans to show support for it, and it was a hot topic of discussion for a while.

 

Unfortunately, the Achilles heel of all indie film projects - funding - could not be defeated, mostly because the film had very few investors and your average online fan of the Phantom story was hardly a millionaire capable of supporting production costs. Development stalled, and the filmmakers decided that the lavish sets, effects, and costumes required by a period adaptation were beyond them, so it was rewritten into a modern-day thriller based on the Phantom story and the final release bore very little resemblance to the original pitch.

 

It would be easy to blame fans, outraged that they were getting a very different film than they had been promised, for being overly harsh about this movie as a result. Some of them probably were. But it is very difficult to be overly harsh about a movie that is so spellbindingly bad - badly acted, badly written, badly produced, badly marketed, in fact a perfect storm of pinnacle-level badness - that even people who watch so-bad-it’s-good cult hits don’t want to suffer through it.

 

(By the way, this is a very surface-level run through the saga of this film’s conception, production, and reception. There was at one point a book published by John Woosley detailing everything about the production, but it has gone out of print and I was never able to get a copy, so it anyone out there has one, please tell me what kind of theoretical firstborn you’d like in exchange because I would dearly love to know more about what I am sure was a ton of other stuff going on behind the scenes. It's always worth remembering that this movie was made by beginning filmmakers on a shoestring budget, but unfortunately that can only excuse so many things.)

 

Anyway, this is a terrible, terrible movie. It’s beyond the pale of bad. It’s so bad it sends me groping for adjectives to quantify the majestic amount of its badness. So we’ll just have to take it one piece at a time.

 

The film uses title cards at both the beginning and the end to give the audience the basic setup of the story and its denouement, which seems like a more than obvious homage to the cards in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film, which as a silent movie needed them whenever information could not be conveyed through visuals alone. Absolutely hilariously, the cards here use the Crackhouse font to make them look dangerous and edgy, and possibly because it looks superficially similar to the broken-mirror font used by the Lloyd Webber musical on its posters.

 

Also, I’m being generous when I say “title cards”. I really mean “one subtitle in that hard-to-read font with no drop shadow, background, or enclosure”, which is clearly meant to evoke the 1925 title cards but has failed in most of their goals, such as “be readable”.

 

But what is the CONTENT of the title cards/subtitles, you ask? Well, it’s an explanation of how the story of the Phantom of the Opera is a true one, and how “there were rumors” that Christine gave birth to a child (I… assume so, because she got married and probably tried to?), and that there is a CULT that was formed to PROTECT CHRISTINE’S BLOODLINE.

 

Yes, this movie is literally Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera + Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, only miles more terrible than either one of them. IT’S REAL AND WE’RE WATCHING IT.

 

None of this makes sense, of course, from the outset. Okay, so Christine had a child… so why is that weird? Why does anyone care and how do they care enough to form a cult to keep the existence of Christine’s descendents a secret? Christine was just an opera singer, not even particularly big-time before all the crimes started happening around her. What on earth do we care that she procreated? 

 

Since my confused shouting into the void can’t change it, we’re left theorizing. Okay, so if we say that Christine having descendents is somehow important, what could be so important about them? Are they world-class superlative singers? That seems doubtful when there is a literal cult trying to keep their existence a secret, which doesn’t mesh well with them having public performance careers. Are they inheriting some kind of de Chagny super-estate or super-wealth or super-title or just some secret artifact he had? I guess, maybe, but the French aristocracy was on its way out in Raoul’s time, and anyway, everyone repeatedly emphasizes that these are Christine’s descendents, which implies that she’s the important link here, not Raoul. You could also assume that maybe the idea is that her child’s father was the Phantom rather than Raoul, but there’s the same problem there of emphasizing Christine herself, and even if so, why do we care about him having kids, either?

 

I suppose it’s kind of merciful, in a way, that the movie so spectacularly fails to explain its own basic plot. It could be worse. If they forget to tell us anyone’s motivations, those motivations can’t be racist or ableist or something.

 

The cult is introduced here via these subtitles long before they are identifiably onscreen. I say identifiably because they’re definitely around, but the movie is terrible at foreshadowing and dramatic tension, so often it’s difficult to tell if these actors are trying to be menacing or just, like, standing around waiting for lunch. It’s a mistake to introduce the cult via subtitle at the beginning, which tells the audience the core mystery of the movie at the beginning and totally undercuts any later suspense… but since if the film hadn’t we would have no idea whatsoever what the fuck was going on, I suppose it was unavoidable.

 

The cult - which, by the way, is not at any point named, which is weird because people in these kinds of groups like to give themselves names like the Daaé Cult or the Phantom Cult or whatever, but no, it’s just the CULT, always capitalized like someone is bellowing it at us - makes absolutely zero sense. It will never improve. It will never get better. It will continue to make negative amounts of sense throughout the movie. It will, in fact, manage to continuously top itself when it comes to illogical nonsense. Here, at the beginning, we’re mostly just wondering why they have to use “terror and violence”, as the subtitle says, to protect this bloodline.

 

From something, or someone, I guess? I have no idea. The film fails to tell us who, exactly is the danger to the bloodline. Why did a cult have to form to protect Christine’s offspring? Who is out there determined to murder these opera babies and what is their fucking problem? The CULT is apparently murderous in pursuit of defending the secret of the Daaé line but FROM WHOM, MOVIE? YOU CAN’T DEFEND THINGS FROM LITERALLY NO ONE.

 

I guess putting Christine into the role literally occupied by the woman who gave birth to the child of Jesus of Nazareth in Brown’s novel is one way to highlight her in a Christ role. It’s not one that makes sense, but there it is.

 

Anyway, our protagonist is Eric Nelson, a man with a significant name that I’m sure will in no way affect anything in the plot to come. He is played by Doug Kisgen, who is one of the most competent actors in the film, which is a crushing thing to realize because he is wooden and rangeless and generally incredibly boring to watch. The film actually doubles down on this, throughout forcing us to sit through long montage scenes of Eric sitting around reading books, writing notes, and looking at his computer screen.

 

Eric is a reporter, you see, although this information was extraordinarily difficult to learn because no one mentions it until a third of the way through the film and by this point we’ve all just had to accept that he must be the sort of person who has lost control of his life and just spends all day trying to find new information on the latest all-consuming conspiracy theory. But no, he’s a reporter, and he’s researching the legend of the Phantom of the Opera and the mysterious behavior of the conspiracy surrounding the cult of Christine’s rumored child. Why? Who knows? The movie does not bother telling us where he even heard about this bizarre idea.

 

If you wondered how professional reporters do their research, the answer is apparently to go to the nonfiction section of their local public libraries and sit earnestly on the beige carpeting, reading books from the general collection that obviously contain information that can lead any casual observer closer to this super duper ancient secret cult that no one believes in or has ever been able to catch up to. For further entertainment, other people will provide Eric with almost all of the research he actually uses in the movie, leaving us wondering what he was reading during all these interminable shots of him sitting on the floor, staring into library-bound covers with intense concentration.

 

Several minutes into this movie, there has been no dialogue and no action and all we have done is read some subtitles while Eric walks around, concerned that the CULT is lurking somewhere around the 1970s tan metal shelving in this public library, because clearly they just monitor the collection to see when someone checks out Cults of Nineteenth Century France and Where to Find Them and then come a-running for assassinations. In one of many, many moments that truly highlight the vastly low-budget nature of this film, there are holiday lights still visible on the library walls behind him as he leaves.

 

I’d like to pause here to talk about production values, which I largely mention to tell you that there aren’t any. Filming is obviously done with less than state-of-the-art equipment, sound editing is painfully abysmal and the viewer is constantly subjected to wild volume swings and background noise, and the cinematography switches between two default states of “deadly boring static shots with poor mise en scène” and “long pans that suggest things are important but in actuality they are not”. This was an indie movie, and it shows - and unfortunately not in a charming, seams-showing but creativity-brimming kind of way. It actually feels a little unfair to be so hard on some of these actors, considering that no one could possibly come off well with this kind of presentation, but truly, this is a movie where everyone is terrible all together, all the time.

 

We learn, when things finally start happening, that Eric is a reporter for The Epoch, a local daily newspaper. This is obviously a reference to La Belle Époque, the period of French history between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, during which the Phantom story takes place (and during which it was written!). I feel like I shouldn’t even have to mention, at this point, that we will not learn very much about The Epoch and what we do learn will be wildly contradictory and frankly extraterrestrial.

 

We now meet our other main character: Kristen, a blonde woman, who is saying goodbye to her mother as she leaves her apartment and is bumped into by a random average-looking dank college student who gazes significantly at her as she exits the elevator. I have not left out any context that would make any of this make reasonable sense. Kristen is obviously our Christine character for the movie and has the same blonde hair as her Swedish antecedent, although that doesn’t mean much in this movie (Eric is also a very pale blond, while the man who will turn out to be the Raoul character has dark, curly hair).

 

If you’re wondering who Kristen is, what she does or how she fits into all of this, you will be pleased to know that, once again, apparently it’s none of our business. It will take a long-ass time to figure out how she’s related to the other characters, and an even longer time to be forced, as the audience, to confront the fact that what she does is nothing and who she is is also nothing, because welcome to yet another film Christine who exists to get yelled at and kidnapped but is not supposed to be, you know, a person.

 

That’s enough to doom the character, but just in case we needed more, she is actually played by three actresses, none of whom are inspiring. Sylvia Niccum, who provides the character’s singing voice, is the least offensive just because she isn’t present much and while she’s obviously still growing into her instrument, her singing is passable most of the time. Lisa Mader is the woman we actually see onscreen, and unfortunately she’s even more dead-faced and wooden an actor than Kisgen, and she isn’t aided by the fact that she is also, for some reason, dubbed completely over on all her lines by a third actress, the uncredited Lindsey McKee. I have no idea why this happened, as Mader is clearly speaking English and other actors in scenes with her are audible on tape without being overdubbed. My best guess is that she might have had an accent that the director didn’t want the character to have, but if so, McKee, who splits her time between flat American and vaguely British accents, isn’t much of an improvement. I’m heavily reminded of the dubbing fiasco in the Argento/Barberini film, where the original actors’ Italian accents were deemed too hard for American audiences to understand but the ensuing English dubs were so terrible that the movie was booed at film festivals.

 

No actress could possibly fight off that much rampant disadvantage, so unfortunately, Kristen is absolutely not fun to watch or listen to or have to think about at any point in this film.

 

Meanwhile, Eric has just said hello to Meg, a brunette who is apparently his secretary or possibly a junior reporter (once again… that’s right, the movie didn’t tell us because it is awful at its own plot and setting and also doesn’t care about any of its female characters at all). Meg’s presence tells us rather obviously that Lloyd Webber’s musical is a major influence on this film, since she was very much not particularly important in Leroux’s novel and had a much larger role in the stage show, but we’ll go on talking very seriously about Leroux’s book as if this isn’t happening anyway. Meg’s first lines are used to announce that she is “now an expert in Gaston Leroux”, whose name she mispronounces as she says it. It’s almost too funny not to be on purpose. Also hilarious is the implication that she literally just learned things to become an expert, as if she has run in from the next room to announce that she finished the entire Wikipedia article and is armed with knowledge.

 

Possibly the most easily forgivable part of this movie is its earnest insistence that Leroux’s novel was nonfiction, that he sincerely claimed it was a true story, and that the Phantom truly existed and has simply been forgotten a century later. It’s a cliché because it comes up so much, but it’s a perfectly valid option for the background to this kind of a story, and following up on Leroux’s own conceit of the story claiming it was true in spite of obviously being fiction is a nice inheritance.

 

The conversation tries desperately to inject some suspense about the CULT and some sort of danger, but fails due to, well, everything about the entire movie. Honorable mention goes to Meg asking Eric if it doesn’t seem strange that no one has “looked into this” until now, and him agreeing while being determined to become the first, despite the fact that apparently even in the beginning research phase they already know about this “rumored” baby and the CULT and therefore obviously other people ALSO KNEW SO THEY COULD WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU, YOU DINGUSES.

 

Cut to Kristen, who is lip-syncing extremely badly to Niccum’s singing, wandering vaguely and blankly around on an opera stage as if she is a roomba who has no idea how she got here or what she’s supposed to be doing with her life. It is hugely not clear that this is a flashback, which led to me spending the first half of the movie thinking that Kristen was a singer who was auditioning for roles; I only figured out that she wasn’t later when this particular flashback was revisited and I realized it was supposed to be set in the 19th century. WHEN EVEN ARE WE.

 

The problem here, obviously, is that the movie is doing some sort of time thing - time travel, flashbacks, hallucinations, whatever - but it didn’t think to tell its viewers that, so the scene literally makes no sense and somehow manages to make this already absolutely disastrous film even more of a wreck.

 

Also, please remember that since this is a flashback that is clearly referencing the original story, we still don’t know any more about Kristen because apparently this isn’t something she’s actually doing.

 

I will say that while the opera house set is obviously a green-screen graphic, it’s nice and atmospheric and the characters are nicely integrated into it. It’s also dark and empty and foreboding and the fact that Christine is here alone singing for exactly two dudes is not encouraging, but one horror story at a time, please.

 

Back with Eric, investigative journalist surpassed by none, he is… attending a lecture in a dreary drop-ceilinged classroom that is probably a real one at a local community college, where a man in a sweater-vest has apparently been delivering a class on Leroux’s novel. I really do understand the difficulty of showing research in a compelling narrative way in a movie, but going to the local public library to read commonly available books? Listening to a Literature 101 lecture on the novel? This is research for babies.

 

The professor reads the final passage of the novel (obviously from the de Mattos translation) dramatically aloud and then we have an absolutely hilarious interaction in which Eric corners him after class and intensely explains that he needs physical evidence to prove that Erik ever actually died. I legitimately can’t tell if he thinks Erik is immortal or is just bad at explaining what he’s doing here. The professor, Dr. Persing, is played by John Redmond, who has decided that he will have exactly one character trait and that trait will be UNSTOPPABLE INTENSITY, so get ready for him to always look exactly like he’s explaining to you how he’s going to perform a hideous torturous medical experiment on you in a warehouse when he’s actually talking about things like what to order for dinner. I do not believe he blinked even one time in any scene he is in for the duration of this film. Persing takes Eric’s tin-foil-hatted demands extremely seriously and tells him he should check out the “original manuscript” for more clues, which is entertaining because first of all, the original manuscript is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France along with all of Leroux’s other original documents so I guess you’re flying to France and impersonating a grad student, buddy, and second of all, it’s not even clear whether he’s talking about Leroux’s manuscript or the Persian’s, which of course they are all very serious about having actually existed.

 

I mean, the Persian is in this movie, and that’s more than we can say about literally any others to date with the exception of the 1988 animated film and the dubious inclusion of the 1925 movie’s whitewashed “Inspector Ledoux”. Is this a triumph or an even worse blow to this neglected character? I don’t know that we can answer that question.

 

In case you wanted to have a good time with this completely bonkers conversation, the movie makes sure to ruin it by having some of Kisgen’s lines clearly dubbed into the scene later for some reason. It’s still recognizably Kisgen, but the abysmal difference in sound quality, bass level, and background noise is painful and jarring.

 

The manuscript, whichever one it is, however, was STOLEN, Eric apparently already knows and Persing agrees. I assume this is evidence of activity on the part of the CULT, but it’s hard to take seriously. Lots of people might steal a super unique manuscript of a classic piece of literature to sell at auction or to a collector or just for themselves, and also, the fact that it was apparently randomly owned by a guy named Jacques Rousseau, a name that is once again so funny that it’s devastatingly hard to believe it wasn’t on purpose, who appears to be… no one? I mean, his name is obviously significant, so you can assume we’ll be meeting him, but who he is or why he had this manuscript in the first place is not explained. The plot doesn’t so much stagger on as crawl, wormlike, lacking appendages.

 

JACQUES ROUSSEAU. I really did have to pause the film here. Is this supposed to evoke world explorer and inventor of the Aqualung Jacques Cousteau, primarily famous for his invention and incredible documentary materials? It has to be, right? But that doesn’t make any sense. Are these just the only French names the filmmakers knew? SOMEONE NEEDS TO FOOTNOTE THIS WHOLE MOVIE.

 

Eric declares that, since he can’t find the manuscript, he’ll talk to “family members” next, which is again wildly unclear - your family members, Eric? Leroux’s? Rousseau’s? - but which is pushed back against by Persing, eyes boring into Eric’s face as he considers ways to peel it off and use it in artwork, declaring that you can’t always trust family. He’s obviously in the CULT (because clearly a small-time community college professor is prime CULT material, especially when he’s actively lecturing on Leroux and giving people clues about the very thing the CULT is sworn to protect), but his justification to Eric that family members don’t just fucking blurt out weird family history to strangers and/or reporters is way more legitimate than the general level of the dialogue here. As if to underscore how bad he is at being in the CULT, he then gives Eric a contact - lo and behold, Rousseau himself.

 

I mean, we could assume that Persing is not in the CULT and is only a helpful dude whose eyes have seen the shrieking death of a thousand forgotten victims, but we’d have to be as oblivious as Eric and Kristen to pull that off, and no one is as oblivious as Eric and Kristen.

 

Eric, the greatest reporter of all time, only asks Rousseau one question, which is why the stolen manuscript was “so valuable”, which is an absolutely ridiculous choice if you can only ask one question as a reporter. Predictably, Rousseau says something along the lines of “it was an original handwritten manuscript of a famous work of literature, loser, that’s something people would like to have”, so he learns nothing.

 

Oh, by the way, did I mention that Eric finds Rousseau just… standing on the street somewhere? I have no idea what was on that card with “contact information” Persing gave him, because he just rolls up on the guy as if he were an NPC in a single-player computer RPG. Rousseau is wearing a full suit and using a push broom to sweep a deserted, obviously green-screened sidewalk in front of an empty closed store. What are we implying here? Is Rousseau the world’s best-dressed street sweeper, a career that has not been viable since the Great Depression? Does he own the dismal and apparently abandoned dark building behind him? Are we trying to say that the loss of this manuscript DESTROYED HIS ENTIRE CAREER, whatever that actually was? It’s like I’m watching something trying to do a postmodern deconstruction, but actually the deconstruction is of the audience’s will to live.

 

This movie never wastes a chance to make sure there is absolutely no suspense in its suspense thriller, so after Eric leaves - literally, he is not even two yards away yet - Rousseau pulls out his old flip phone and ominously calls someone, making it clear that he is in the CULT and reporting this DANGEROUS MAN who is TOO CLOSE TO THE TRUTH. Report Persing while you’re at it, bro. Nothing any of you do makes any sense.

 

It’s at this point that we discover that Kristen and Eric are apparently romantically involved and live together, a fact that was not apparent given that the only information we have ever gotten was Eric glancing briefly at a photo of her on his desk at work, which was not exactly illuminating given that she is desperately obviously the focus of his research, even if he hasn’t figured that out yet. I bring this up because the first time they interact is a shot in which Kristen is asleep on the couch in her apartment and Eric appears to creepily lean over her while a thunderstorm rages outside, which is a huge horror movie setup and I was extremely concerned that he was going to do something horrifying before I eventually figured out that this was not intentional.

 

Instead, what’s intentional is illustrating that their relationship isn’t going well by having them have a fight, in which Kristen (I guess she was waiting up for him, thus why she was sleeping on the couch?) gets upset at him for being out all night and he refuses to tell her what he was doing. Yes, this is SECRET research, and his only justification for not telling her anything and refusing to answer his phone is “I was WORKING”, so just pack your shit and leave, Kristen, this is absolutely not about to get better. Worse, it’s implied for the first time that Eric may be an alcoholic, because Kristen assumes that he was out drinking from the evidence of his shoes. I have no idea what his shoes look like or why they suggest drinking. The film doesn’t even bother to give us a shot of his shoes. But Kristen flatly declaims, “Your SHOES,” before getting upset, so… the shoes are definitely involved somehow.

 

After they give up on their fight, which is incredibly boring because it’s being performed by two actors who couldn’t impersonate mannequins at a department store trying to repeat dialogue written by an AI that can almost but not quite pass the Turing Test, they go to bed and it’s time for more dream sequences, this time with Kristen back in the opera house but the curly-haired college student who was Gazing Meaningfully At Her before also there, wearing period garb and watching her sing. That scene cuts immediately to another one, this time a childhood scene familiar to anyone who has read Leroux’s novel, in which a young Christine with a very prominent red scarf that she is wearing in a manner in which no one has ever worn a scarf in the history of the world loses it only to have young Raoul save it and return it to her. The child actors are the best actors in this piece and that should tell you all you need to know.

 

So, apparently, the weird staring college student who lives in Eric’s and Kristen’s building is supposed to be the Raoul character? We have no idea what his name is or why he’s here or where he came from or even why he’s staring at Kristen beyond maybe that he thinks she’s hot, but there he is, being identical to the Raoul in the flashbacks. 

 

The identical characters suggest that Kristen is a descendent of the original Christine while this kid is a descendent of the original Raoul… and if that’s the case, we’ve got some theorizing to do. So is the CULT actually a sort of Raoul versus Erik situation, with Raoul’s descendents hiding Christine and her descendents from the man (and descendents because this is a movie that can never have enough descendents) who terrorized her? I am kind of here for Raoul, Cultmaster Extraordinaire, who created an entire secret society to keep Erik and his offspring from finding and fucking up his family line. That’s sort of brilliant. It’s also hilarious, if Eric is literally living with Kristen and still desperately trying to find the Daaé Descendents because he’s just that bad at this.

 

Of course, maybe this isn’t about descendents. Maybe Kristen is dreaming about a past life, or a sort of ancestral memory. But the CULT is all about Christine’s lineage, so that doesn’t work out, except that everyone being identical makes way less sense if it’s all about descendents because hello, genetics. Are the original characters reincarnating into their descendents somehow, thus returning me to the second Meadows novel in a move that I never thought anyone would want to make for any reason whatsoever? And if everyone is reincarnating, how did they all manage to accidentally show up at the same place at the same time with no idea what’s happening?

 

This movie doesn’t care about telling you trifles like what in the fuck is going on, so instead, TO THE GRAVEYARD!

 

There are a lot of rain sounds and some ominous thunder in the graveyard, but Kisgen remains perfectly dry as he wanders around staring at things and long, static shots threaten to knock out any intrepid viewers who have remained awake thus far. He eventually discovers a lovely mausoleum (even if it is clearly CGI), with the inscription E. DAAE along the top. The wind is absolutely fucking with the camera mic, but I guess that’s kind of atmospheric?

 

While Eric freaks out about this discovery and calls Meg to demand she do more research (side note: who is Meg, anyway? is she another reporter at his paper? his assistant? a staff researcher? why is she doing all this work for this douchebag? also, he does not spell the name Daaé he wants her to look up so GOOD LUCK MEG), I had lots of time in among the very poor choices of long shots to think about how this would mean that either Christine had her children out of wedlock or else they took their mother’s surname for some reason, and somehow her family line either got really lucky until it hit Kristen and was all boys who could carry on the family name, or else all the women in it from the 1800s on down retained their maiden names or never married but still had kids. It’s all a little improbable, is what I’m saying.

 

I mean, also, there could be more than one person named Daaé in the world, Eric. A quick internet search tells me there are hundreds of Daaés in the world, primarily in Norway and Denmark, but I think we already know where your research level is.

 

A related question: where is this movie actually set? Somewhere in the United States, presumably, because the accents are all American except for Kristen’s about 25% of the time, but that’s all the information we’re going to get. Somewhere fairly temperate with green-lawn graveyards and tiny underfunded libraries. That’s all we’ve got. I’m going to go with Ohio, because it’s not like anything will contradict me.

 

You know what’s neat? We get to see the original Erik for a second in a flashback here, and his mask is pretty cool!

 

 

 

 

It may be obviously made with gaffer tape, but it’s still more Leroux-accurate than many we’ve seen, possibly as a holdover from the film’s original plans to be a period-accurate retelling. It’s full-faced, black, and looks homemade but serviceable, and a black tear of blood runs from the eyehole which is just too goth for words. We get this brief flashback when Eric first sees the mausoleum and he responds to it by dramatically yelling, so presumably he is also a descendent/reincarnation/person of interest here.

 

A really sad aspect of this movie, considering its purported “plot”, is its complete lack of information about Christine herself. This is supposed to be all about her - her life, her child, her descendents, her legacy - but I have no frigging clue what happened after the events of Leroux’s story and wouldn’t even know those if I hadn’t read the book before watching this cinematographical Hindenburg unfold. This is a sequel, albeit one set much later, and one in which Christine is important - so who is she? Did she marry Raoul, or anyone else? How did she take care of herself? When did she have a child, and with whom, and how did she take care of them? How did she gain a whole family line for this cult to protect, and how and when did they come to the Americas?

 

We’ll never find any of this out. Christine is just a womb who was in proximity to a famous story in this movie, which is even worse than her usual treatment in sequels, and Kristen isn’t helping since she doesn’t get any characterization or development either beyond not liking Eric staying out all night and ignoring her.

 

Here’s another question about the women in this film: where are Meg’s flashbacks? We’ve had Kristen and Eric and the currently unnamed Raoul neighbor all seeing their past lives, but when does Meg get to remember any of these? Why is she important enough that she has to be here and be involved in the plot, but not important enough to actually be a participant in it? We could do some sort of hand-wavey, wiggly pseudo-justifications about supernatural things and fate and lifetimes and all that to explain her presence, but then why hasn’t she gotten flashbacks to her part in this tale? We could also perhaps guess that Meg might be in the CULT and thus a spy planted to keep Eric away from the truth, which would be fabulous since it would imply that the Girys were in on Raoul’s secret society plans to protect his spawn, but that’s just a thing we’re theorizing.

 

I’ll spoil it for you: Meg never gets any flashbacks. In fact, after one more brief and confusing appearance in the movie, she’ll never even appear again, and she certainly won’t matter. She’s also no one, here just to be a moving set piece and do Eric’s research for him so he can dramatically stride around graveyards instead. And that just puts the final nail in the coffin for this movie: it has four major female characters (we’ll get to the fourth later) and none of them matter worth a single damn. Whomever wrote this literally made them into plot objects and then ignored them.

 

CHEERFUL. Also cheerful is the question of whether Eric suspects that Kristen is descended from Christine, and whether or not this is a thing he started investigating before or after beginning a relationship with her, all very important details when trying to figure out exactly how creepy he is being. If he doesn’t know or suspect anything, that’s a hell of a coincidence. If he started a relationship with Kristen to get close to her when he suspected she was a Daaé, that’s a big old terrifying red flag. If he didn’t but started secretly investigating her background while refusing to tell her about it after they were already together, that’s… not really better?

 

Flashback time again: Christine and Raoul run happily along a shoreline and kiss. A weird pan into the blurry distance seems like it was originally going to show the Phantom spying on them, but it doesn’t, which results in the objectively hilariously bad moment when the camera moves from the happy couple, zooms in on a blurry bunch of leaves, and then just sits there before cutting while ominous music plays.

 

In the present day, Eric is in the library AGAIN, now highlighting inside library books like the worst person in the world that he is, but I can’t get too mad about that because I’m too busy laughing at this edition of the Epoch superimposed over the scene with the headline MYSTERY CULT KILLS THREE PEOPLE. It’s followed by the headline PHANTOM: FACT OR FICTION?, which I have to assume Eric himself wrote. Oh, and we also have CHRISTINE DAAÉ HAS CHILD… That’s it. That’s the whole headline.

 

I desperately need to know who this DAILY NEWSPAPER’S intended audience is. Is this like the National Enquirer but without the fun pictures which are, let’s face it, at least 50% of its draw? Are these current editions of the Epoch, or are they from some sort of archive, which begs the question of when they were published and who besides Eric was ridiculous enough to write them. Does Eric not have an editor? WHY AREN’T THEY STOPPING HIM?

 

Is… is Eric just publishing the Epoch by himself out of his garage and leaving it in local businesses who are too nice to tell him not to before they throw it away after he leaves? How on earth is this a real daily newspaper? The film made a big point of having Rousseau say he’d heard of the paper before earlier, likely to lend it legitimacy and stop this exact line of questioning, but that is just not even close enough to good enough to overcome the sheer volume of wackiness on display.

 

Look, cult suspense thrillers require some suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t work this way. Yes, the viewer has to accept the idea that perhaps there is some sort of secret society they’ve never heard of running things, but for them to do so, they have to see society as it is and be able to see where the connections might be. If whatever’s going on is wildly ridiculous, it doesn’t look like the real world and therefore we can’t believe the suspense because nothing makes any sense. Also, it makes both Eric and the CULT look like they’re in the middle of a clown car routine that we have the misfortune of witnessing after having taken a wrong turn at the county fair.

 

This research montage goes on somehow for twice as long as the first one, making it roughly five to six millennia in length. Niccum is singing over the whole thing again, but unfortunately this time it’s a more pop-flavored song in English (“Myth Angel”, track 11 on the soundtrack that you can indeed buy if you have exhausted all possible other uses for your money) and she has more obvious problems with it than she did in the opera audition earlier. It does not make the continued parade of ludicrous headlines - PHANTOM MANUSCRIPT FEARED LOST - any more palatable. (Also, filmmakers, we already got all these plot points. You’re literally just wasting our time now. We already know all this and so does Eric. There’s no point in showing us again.)

 

This sequence is interspersed with shots of Kristen reaching critical levels of Fed Up with Eric’s refusal to show up at home, communicate with her in any way, or tell her what the fuck he’s doing all the time, so at this point I hope she does run away with the college student neighbor. It’s what he deserves.

 

After a moment of peak comedy in which we see Kisgen determinedly typing away at a keyboard before the camera accidentally pans up and we can see the black, inactive monitor, another headline comes up: WHO WAS CHRISTINE’S TRUE LOVER? Movie, you have got to tell me what is going on with the Epoch. What on earth does that have to do with anything? Why are you running celebrity gossip from 1880s France? And why must you come in here and ruin my excellent theory about Raoul, Cultist Supreme, by suggesting like every other tiresome sequel ever that Christine’s children must be fathered by Erik?

 

(Um, if Christine’s children are Erik’s, I’m not sure I like where we’re going in regards to this Eric and Kristen relationship. Oh, dear.)

 

We get a moment when Eric pours maybe one whole ounce of vodka into his mug while working during this montage, so apparently that’s supposed to confirm that yes, he does have a drinking problem and Kristen is right, because behold, The Poison Hath Touched His Lips and there is no going back. This would work if Eric were a recovered alcoholic falling off the wagon in his pursuit here, maybe, but that would have required actually characterizing him or giving him any backstory before he sprang full-formed from the 1970s carpeting of the Johnsonville County Public Library.

 

LEROUX, PHANTOM AUTHOR, MURDERED? This is my favorite part. Leroux was murdered because he KNEW TOO MUCH. About Christine and her bloodline. He tried to tell the world but he was SILENCED. I mean, by all accounts he died at home in his sleep with his wife nearby, but you can’t prove a negative, so sure, why not say he was murdered by DAAÉ CULTISTS?

 

I’m making a lot of fun of these headlines, because obviously it is physically impossible not to while remaining conscious, but I’m actually very glad they’re here. Otherwise, this would be an interminable montage of Kisgen trying to look very serious at pieces of paper and intermittently pinning printouts of articles we just saw to his wall in their entirety with absolutely no order or organization whatsoever, and it’s important to be able to laugh at CULT STRIKES AGAIN: PARIS, NEW YORK to save your brain melting out of your ears. The brief mention of New York might be a shout-out to Forsyth’s 1999 sequel novel, which was set in New York and featured Christine and the Phantom both in the Americas and Christine’s child being Erik’s, and if so, somehow this movie found a way to tie itself to one of the most hated adaptations of the story ever just in case a stone was left unturned here.

 

This cult is amazing. Look at all these headlines. It’s the least secret cult ever to exist and apparently everyone knows about it. Or else it’s just Eric, publishing his Phantom Cult newspaper alone in his garage while Kristen wonders upstairs what went wrong with her life.

 

I really do love this shot near the end of the montage where Kisgen dramatically reaches out and taps a picture of the Palais Garnier that he has tacked to his wall. Just, like, so we know it’s there.

 

We’ve survived a lot of this movie, right? It’s gone on forever. Civilizations have risen and fallen. Entire canons of literature have been written and crumbled to dust. Creatures the likes of which we will never know have developed societies on distant planets. And in this film, we are exactly fifteen minutes in.

 

That’s only a third of the way. Fifteen minutes.

 

You know, this movie was apparently originally just short of an hour and a half long, but Woosley cut it down to forty-five minutes, citing that it was too “confusing” for the audience at the longer length. Setting aside the psychedelia of trying to imagine how this could possibly have been more confusing, I honestly can’t decide whether or not to mourn this decision. On the one hand, the longer cut might have explained some of the massively gaping plot holes and given some of the characters something approaching an existence. On the other hand, I cannot imagine watching this movie if it were twice as long. I literally can’t.

 

We finally escape the montage to find Eric drinking with Persing at a bar, although whether they met up intentionally, are buddies now after having just met recently, or just bumped into each other is unclear. Eric is definitely being presented as an alcoholic, getting pissed off and defensive when he thinks Persing is asking him about his drinking habits instead of his research. It’s interesting that the film seems to be trying to use Eric’s alcoholism as a proxy for the original Erik’s mental and physical disabilities; both are certainly debilitating and can in some cases cause similar behavior, and alcoholism is just as affected by genetic factors and difficult to manage as many of the probable issues Erik faced. I wish it had done more with it, though; it feels less like the writing put any real effort into looking into a modern conception of a man struggling with a behavioral problem and more like it was just running through the standard tropes of a Tortured Man Seeking Truth But No One Believes Him Except Jim Beam.

 

At any rate, Persing is surprisingly cogent and even compassionate here, trying to get Eric to explain what his problem is and why he’s doing all this. Eric uses this as an opportunity to be the worst by claiming he’s doing all this for Kristen, and when Persing is surprised that she would ask him to do it, he clarifies that she didn’t ask “in words” and goes on to cry about how he used to be a successful journalist but now he doesn’t win awards for his articles anymore and that’s why Kristen doesn’t love him anymore.

 

ERIC. She is using words RIGHT NOW to tell you what she’s pissed off about: you drinking and staying out all night and ignoring her and refusing to share what you’re up to. Kristen has been very clear about the things that are fucking up your relationship. This man then has the gall to go on and complain that he and Kristen never talk or spend time together anymore, when the entire problem is he won’t see her, answer her phone calls, or show up at home so she can do things like, I don’t know, TALK TO HIM or SPEND TIME TOGETHER.

Obviously, this is all building up to the idea that Kristen might become interested in our Raoul stand-in and leave Eric for him, and that this is sort of inevitable and also not Eric’s fault because he’s doing all this because he loves her so much and is driven. Eric, this movie is much too long for you not to take some responsibility for yourself. I can’t watch this forever.

 

By the way, apparently Eric and Kristen are married? It took until this point with Eric referring to her as his wife halfway through the frigging movie to learn THAT piece of information. This poor film is just so stunningly badly put together.

 

I know that Redmond, who is still committed to never blinking on camera and no one in the world can make him do otherwise, looks like a guy who’s going to make sausages out of your innards, but please listen to Persing when he talks about how you are literally ignoring your wife, Eric. He’s being helpful, even if he’s obviously in the CULT and just using this as an excuse to convince you to abandon your researches. (Please join me in the horror of realizing at this point that the many headlines we saw flash by in the earlier montage were probably supposed to be Eric’s past award-winning articles? AWARD-WINNING.)

 

The CULT is dedicated to not making even a shred of sense, though, remember, so even though Persing has successfully convinced Eric to go home and see his wife, he also drugs his drink. I am not excited about where this is going.

 

Meanwhile, Kristen is FINALLY taking some action by going to Eric’s office, and when he isn’t there she naturally starts looking over the things he’s working on. Neither she nor the audience is pleased by the heavy-handed symbolism of his photo of her being buried beneath all his articles and research. Because she is a drifter of a character, she does not encounter Meg, which might have led to some sort of character development between women which is strictly forbidden, and instead just goes home again after learning nothing, so she can ride in the elevator with the Raoul character, who is styled incredibly creepily and keeps staring at her, looks about twenty years younger than she is, and is named Raymond.

 

I can’t lie, I love that his name is Raymond. It’s so ridiculous. RAYMOND. Why did we get faithful updated versions of Erik’s and Christine’s names, but not Raoul’s? Raoul is the same name as Ralph (or you could even go with the similar but different rooted Rudolph if you wanted to be festive), but somehow no one ever names him Ralph. Is it that Ralph is too much of a Muppet name at this point? I mean, this guy kind of has Muppet hair. But never mind, he’s Raymond, and Raymond is clearly inappropriately into Kristen and spends his time ominously watching her get out of the elevator, although Erc is creepily waiting for her in the hallway here so really, there are no winners. Certainly not Kristen.

 

I feel like I don’t really understand the next scene, in which Raymond hangs a small mirror on the wall in his house but the entire thing is filmed like we’re watching a serial killer set up in a horror movie, complete with ominous music and evil reflected smile. Maybe the mirror is meant to evoke the one in Christine’s dressing room, since he hangs it on the wall between his apartment and Kristen’s? But that doesn’t make sense because he’s Raoul, not Erik, and also nothing ever comes of this. I’m baffled.

 

It is impossible to explain how incredibly bad in all dimensions the next scene is. I am honestly almost at a loss for words. It is stunningly bad, and I mean that in the literal sense, as in I have been stunned and cannot respond, take actions, or get my brain to cooperate. I watched it three times because I had trouble believing in its existence. It’s the ultimate distilled scene for this movie: terribly scripted, incredibly poorly acted, filmed and edited by someone who hates eyeballs, and presented to us with cold, hard, serious determination.

 

If you described it in completely utilitarian terms, it’s a scene in which Kristen confronts Eric with her discoveries from his office, they fight over his activities and her frustration, he assaults her, and on the other side of the wall Raymond hears the scuffle and sees his newly-hung mirror fall to the ground and shatter. That’s what happens, but you can’t possibly imagine how it goes down. We have no idea what Kristen confronts Eric with, because the camera fails to let us see it, so she’s got something but whether it’s an article, a DNA tube, or a live gremlin, we have no idea. Eric goes into his speech about how all this is FOR HER and when she says she doesn’t want this, thanks very much, he goes straight to WELL SOME OF US HAVE TO WORK AROUND HERE and her retorting THIS ISN’T EVEN WORK. And then in a crowning moment of the worst thing you have ever seen on film, Eric shoves Kristen with one limp hand and she falls to sit on the couch.

 

I absolutely cannot describe how poor that part is. Eric’s shove looks like he has just discovered that he has arms and isn’t sure yet if they’re some sort of exotic moving pasta. Kristen sits down like a small child bouncing on a couch cushion and her expression appears to have no acknowledgment whatsoever of what just happened, leaving the audience feeling gaslit about what they even just saw. It’s filmed from slightly around a corner as if someone is eavesdropping on all this, but no one is. The camerawork is blurry and weird. In the other room, Raymond looks evil in the reflection from the mirror shards on the floor. Nothing makes sense. You yearn for the worldly grit of college freshman video projects. You begin to question the very concept of film as you know it. Perhaps you hallucinated things like dynamic angles and actors who understand what human beings look like. Perhaps you have been in The Truman Show all along.

 

So, anyway, emerging from THAT. Obviously, Erik is abusive in the original story; we know this and so did the filmmakers, but rather than committing to that idea and to how harmful it was to the original Christine, they chose to have an antagonist drug Eric so that it won’t be his fault when he abuses Kristen, thus making sure no one loses sympathy for him and we can all think Kristen is required to forgive him. It’s toothless, wishy-washy, and apologetic, especially since if they wanted so badly for Eric not to be vilified for being abusive, they could have just NOT HAD HIM ABUSE KRISTEN. It’s not that hard. It seems clear that the writing wanted her to have an “excuse” to leave Eric and run to Raymond, but she already has plenty of very clearly defined reasons, which just implies that the filmmakers also thought she was wrong to want to leave just because he did shady things like never see her and keep secrets and drink all the time and yell at her, as if these were not valid reasons she might want to leave already.

 

Raymond listens at the wall to Eric babbling apologies, to which Kristen quite sensibly doesn’t even respond and just locks herself in the fucking bedroom, one of her strongest and most sensible decisions in the entire movie. We then get a sad star-crossed lovers splitscreen of her and Eric both sitting on either side of this bedroom door, which is improved vastly when it turns into a flashback to the original Erik and Christine but still can’t fully absorb the wreckage of the script in which Christine is dead-voiced telling Erik he would remove his mask if he were “an honest man”. It’s kind of nice to see Erik talking in the third person, a touch preserved from the original novel. I must assume that some of these flashback scenes were filmed for trailers or as original parts of the planned period adaptation, which might help explain why they don’t always seem to gel particularly well with the modern-day movie going on around them.

 

So we’re obviously paralleling Erik’s and Christine’s relationship with Eric’s and Kristen’s, right? But we’re lacking crucial context. Does this mean that Christine is in Erik’s lair willingly in this scene, and if so, how and why is that different from Leroux’s story? If not, does that mean we should understand that Eric somehow coerced Kristen? How are we supposed to compare Raymond and Raoul when one is a creepy stranger who just appeared out of nowhere to mack on Kristen and the other is a beloved childhood friend whom Christine trusts? If the original Erik is teaching Christine to sing as he was in the novel, what’s the parallel for Eric, who doesn’t appear to be contributing anything but agita to Kristen’s life? What drew Kristen to Eric in the first place, and vice versa, when neither of them is musical and therefore they must have a completely different meeting and foundation for their relationship? How did they get together and what does that mean for their dynamic together?

 

I mean, you don’t even need me to tell you that none of these questions will be answered in this movie at this point. This is what I mean when I say that it’s a perfect storm of badness. It’s not that it has good ideas but doesn’t have the skill to carry them off, or bad ideas but a flair for trying to present them, or any combination possibly thereof. Badness is baked into its core in a molten river of self-saucing badness. It is bad throughout its existence in every dimension, discovered and not.

 

Well, I’m lying a little bit - Erik is now apologizing for kidnapping Christine, so no, she’s not here willingly, which really again fucks up comparing this relationship to Eric’s and Kristen’s (presumably) consensual one. He promises to let her leave in five days, which gives us plenty of time for an agonizingly long and, as usual, poorly filmed and acted scene in which she wants to hear Don Juan Triumphant, he refuses to play it and gets mad at her, and then he changes his mind and plays it anyway, possibly having also stopped paying attention to this interminable film.

 

I wish there was more of this to analyze, because it has a few sad glimmers of… I won’t say something good, but something in it. What little we hear of Erik’s life’s work is actually neat, with discordant modern modes reminiscent of the treatment of it in Lloyd Webber’s musical, and Christine unmasking him while he plays is a classic nod to other unmasking scenes, particularly the ones in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film and, again, Lloyd Webber’s show. Interestingly, the film declines to show us Erik’s face; as in the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries (although sadly not with the flair for amazing mask theatrics), the Phantom’s appearance is never revealed. According to the movie’s IMDB page, they did do makeup for the Phantom, but decided not to reveal it in the end, which is an interesting decision. The little we do see looks vaguely skeletal, which makes sense for the originally-planned period film.

 

Another neat touch in this scene is that Erik doesn’t immediately flip out on Christine. He just sits there, silent for a moment before he begins visibly cracking, and his initial responses as he begins talking to her are in a very quiet tone. It’s hard to tell if it’s better or worse to have him react like an abusive boyfriend more than someone having a lashing-out breakdown in the middle of this lake of endlessly uninspired boredom, beginning with some classic misogyny in his statement, “You women are so inquisitive,” and then it all goes downhill from there, with a lot of creepiness and some dialogue from Leroux’s book and Erik banging Christine against a wall while Mader looks so vacant you wonder if she has any idea she’s even filming a scene right now. Actually, no, it’s not; there is no reason to ADD misogyny that wasn’t already there to this story, and it’s an especially bad look when you’re already treating all your female characters like convenient containers for Plot Substance.

 

Back in the modern day, Raymond has somehow teleported into Kristen’s apartment and onto her couch, and Eric isn’t here so I assume some time has passed? Truly, this movie is edited to a standard not often seen in our times. 

 

He’s offering Kristen his help because he overheard what sounded like domestic violence (and let’s be real, it was, no matter how poorly executed by the actors), but he’s just a rando creepy neighbor she just met and I really feel like him sitting on her couch with his arm around her is not justified. I mean, trauma bonding is a real thing, and I can appreciate that Kristen has asked him to stay with her because she’s justifiably afraid her husband will come back and be violent again, but Raymond is a tool who tries to take advantage of her and she rightfully kicks him back out again when he tries to kiss her. It’s nice that he apologizes for it, and that she explicitly calls out that he’s too young for her, but the whole interlude plays like we need to just shit on Kristen’s empty life some more because it’s important to go through these Raoul and Christine motions, but we also don’t feel like writing anything that would commit to them or make any sense.

 

My notes went to all capital letters here out of excitement because Y’ALL. There is an EDITOR at the Epoch and we have FINALLY MET HIM. IT’S NOT ALL JUST A FEVER DREAM.

 

He’s actually a pretty sensible dude, too, because we meet him when he gives Eric a makework story assignment to stop him from working on the all-consuming obsession that is destroying his life, and when challenged on it says that he can tell the story is making things rough for Eric and is going to reassign it while he moves on to another project until he gets himself together again. He’s straightforward and reasonable, points out that Eric needs a break and that his personal life is suffering (citing the restraining order against him from Kristen so holy shit, she did something! good job, Kristen!), and even suggests he go get some therapy, confirming that he’s not going to fire him and just wants to make sure he’s okay.

 

Obviously, though, this is all a setup by the CULT because Eric is getting too close to the TRUTH, or so we are supposed to believe, despite the fact that the movie is inadvertently finally making the cult look competent enough for the audience to question their existence simply by having written dialogue an actual human would say instead of cartoonish moustache-twirling and intense eyeball zooms.

 

In Meg’s final appearance, she tries to chill Eric out, but of course he cannot be chilled out and decides to cry at her about Kristen, which has to be uncomfortable for like fifteen reasons. Sorry about your life, Meg. He complains that they’re “drifting apart” and Meg wonders if there’s “someone else”, but I’m pretty sure the reason they’re drifting apart is less about Raymond and more about the fact that you assaulted her and she had to get a restraining order against you, my dude.

 

In maybe the weirdest interlude in this bleak festival of infinite weirdness, Meg says, “I know how it feels to lose someone you love,” out of nowhere and then it looks like we might see her and Eric kiss while intense shots of them getting closer zoom around… but then she just kisses him on the cheek and leaves. We will never see her again, nor learn what she’s talking about when she says she lost someone she loved. I am personally offended by this level of awfulness. This movie has the worst script of any movie not actively trying to be offensive I have ever seen.

 

By this point, it seems obvious that the lines between Eric and Erik are starting to blur; he asks himself out loud if Christine/Kristen “still loves him”, which seems to refer to Raoul since we have had no backstory for Kristen and therefore we don’t know if she dated all of Argentina, Rihanna, the Pope, or no one at all before she married Eric, and he also mentions “almost losing her once”, which seems out of place here, although it could be tied to that whole implication that he is a recovering alcoholic thing if this movie had bothered to have a shred of background on anyone. It now seems obvious to the audience that Eric must be a descendent of the original Erik, but that just blows even more holes in this dinghy made from tears, begging, and old script sheets that we are desperately trying to stay afloat in. If Eric is the real descendent of Christine, accidentally investigating himself, does that imply that the CULT is independent of the Daaés and they don’t know about it? If Kristen isn’t descended from Christine, does that mean she’s just some unlucky random woman he latched onto? And if she is, are we looking at an accidentally-related incest plot? Where the hell does Raymond come into all this, or Meg? It’s once again like we’re retreading the exact plot of Meadows’ 2002 book Phantasy, but Woosley found a way to make it somehow even more incoherent.

 

Not to be deterred from making the most epically poorly thought-out decisions possible in the modern day as well as in the past, Eric responds to finding that Kristen has left divorce papers on his desk by marching into his boss’s office and SETTING THEM ON FIRE ON HIS DESK. He then marches out, secure in the righteous, blazing fury of knowing that he is THE ONLY RATIONAL MAN IN A WORLD OF CONSPIRACIES. (I’m not sure how his wife wanting to divorce him because he assaulted her is related to this, but apparently it is.)

 

(It’s worth noting that Jeffrey Fellin, playing Eric’s boss, is by far the most competent actor on this crew. He has a few other television credits under his belt, confirming this. Sorry you got roped into all this, man.)

 

More flashbacks, which contain very little to help the audience understand when they are happening or why or what they have to contribute to the overall narrative of the film. The acting is so hard to watch here that you could be forgiven for passing out and missing the delivery that Persing is also a reincarnation/descendent - OF THE PERSIAN, APPARENTLY. Yes, what we needed here was some more overt racism, with a blatantly white dude playing the only character of color in this goddamn story, wearing clothing obviously inspired by the character of Inspector Ledoux in the 1925 movie. I blame that movie for this move, too, since it was the first to whitewash the character and this one obviously just followed up on it, but if you’re going to actually call the character “the Persian” and literally name his modern equivalent the incredibly terrible “Persing”, the least you could frigging do is not cast an old white dude to play him. Like, BOTTOM OF THE BARREL LEAST YOU COULD DO.

 

I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be feeling in this scene, where Eric surprises Persing, who is sneaking into his house, and knocks him down, interspersed with a scene of Erik and the Persian having an argument on the shores of the lake beneath the opera house. Eric clubs Persing in the face with a flashlight but, in spite of the entertaining thud sound effect, not very hard. Once again, this is supposed to be showing that the two scenes are the same situation… but they super aren’t?

 

Anyway, finally, FINALLY, we’re going to get the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s time for the CULT meeting. We will unveil the members of the CULT. Are you READY?

 

The CULT is composed of Persing, Rousseau, and Raymond, who just joined last week and doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. That’s it. That’s the big bad scary cult: one community college professor who actively talks about the thing they’re supposed to bury, one professional street-sweeper slash unknown gentleman of leisure, and a college student they just found out back somewhere who may or may not have joined only because he has the hots for the person the CULT is stalking. It’s like someone writing the Witchfinder’s Army from Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens but being absolutely deadly serious about it.

 

Oh, and there’s one other person at this meeting: Kristen’s mom.

 

This genuinely is a plot twist, in that no audience member would ever see it coming because Kristen’s mom was in exactly one scene at the beginning of the movie when Kristen said goodbye to her before leaving the house and it was not clear that she even lived here. It is not a good plot twist in the sense that any self-respecting mystery or thriller writer should use it, since it doesn’t allow the audience to participate in the mystery at all, but whatever, talk about your culty goals or something so we can get out of this movie that has somehow lasted through five consecutive ice ages at this point.

 

Hilariously, they refer to Kristen’s mom as “Mademoiselle Daaé”, so I guess she really didn’t ever get married, and I kind of want to know about this Amazon Daaé bloodline society where we don’t get married and only use men for breeding stock, but no one but me wants to hear about any of the women in this movie. This confirms that Kristen really is the last descendent of Christine Daaé, which has been super obvious since the beginning of the movie, but… that doesn’t actually explain anything.

 

So are these things just fucking happening to her? Is she cursed? Is Eric possessed by the ghost of Erik who just could not be enough of an asshole when he was alive? Is she somehow a nexus of reincarnation, causing her to be constantly assaulted by horny men who don’t really know why they’re even into her? None of these options are good.

 

I’d like to note that if it’s 2009 and Kristen looks like she’s probably in her late 30s or early 40s, she would have been born in the 1960s or 1970s; if her mother had been in her 30s then, that would make her born in the 1930s or so, which would make the “E. Daaé” tomb we saw earlier that of the original Christine’s daughter. That would make Kristen Christine’s great-granddaughter. (Yes, I can see that “E. Daaé” is supposed to somehow evoke Erik with its first unexplained initial but please also consider that that doesn’t make any sense so I’m going to assume her name was Elizabeth and no one on earth can stop me.)

 

Apparently, Kristen’s mother has known about the CULT and the DARK SECRET they guard all along, but she doesn’t want Kristen to ever have to bear the burden of this knowledge, so she’s been helping the cult keep her in the dark. The seriousness with which the cult takes all of this is so unintentionally comedic that it almost makes up for everything else happening in the film. What are you all doing? This is just a descent line from a famously ugly dude. Lots of people in the United States have never even heard of him and even if they had, they’d think that was a neat curiosity at this point. What are you guarding that’s SO IMPORTANT that people MUST DIE when they get too close to THE SECRET? The filmmakers want to save that reveal for the end, so they cut away after letting Raymond, conveniently new cultist, demand to know about it because he is now an exposition vehicle. (He does have to promise Kristen’s mom to “swear loyalty to her family” so I guess Raoul as Cultmaster is officially out the window. Sigh. I really liked that one. It would have been so much more fun than… this.)

 

Since it’s Discovering Secrets Time, we’ll instead cut to Eric breaking into the Daaé mausoleum WITH AN AXE, complete with the classic horror movie shot of him silhouetted in its doorway with the weapon. Obviously this is objectively hilarious and probably has nothing to do with any other Phantom movies, but it’s worth noting that we’ve had an axe-wielding Phantom before in the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film. Or maybe Woosley just saw the infamous cover to the 1987 ZX Spectrum video game.

 

Eric walks in, puts down the axe, and I lost my shit when he then picked up a shovel that was just CONVENIENTLY THERE. INSIDE THE MAUSOLEUM. HERE, GRAVE ROBBERS, IF YOU GOT IN THE FRONT DOOR, YOU EARNED IT. He then discovers something the film still won’t let us see and yells, “I knew it!” and then we’re off to the races with Kristen, who is blithely unaware of what we can only assume at this point is a bunch of alternate universes bleeding together all around her.

 

I think the film is implying that Kristen’s mother lives with her and is somewhat frail, which begs the question of where she was during all this late-night drama and domestic abuse earlier. The alternative is that Raymond figured out how to find Kristen at her mother’s so he could show up and annoy her here, but you’d think Kristen would have asked about that in this conversation since it’s, you know, terrifying.

 

This movie is very unclear about whether or not Kristen’s mother has some form of dementia. She seems very lucid when dealing with CULT business, but at other times doesn’t recognize people or seems unaware of what’s going on around her. It could be that she’s playing at being fragile and confused to prevent Kristen from catching on, but then she does it when Kristen is nowhere nearby, too, so it seems more like she might have periods of lucidity? I DON’T KNOW. LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, IT’S A DISASTER AND YOU CAN’T TELL.

 

Kristen agrees to go talk to Raymond on the roof, which is an obvious callback to the Apollo’s Lyre scene in Leroux’s book and also obviously shoved in there because we need the scene okay even though it makes no sense for her to do this, but there they go. Raymond is still hitting on her, losing all the brownie points he earned by apologizing for being a dick earlier, although his explanation that he’s “drawn to her” and his offer to take her away somewhere because he’s afraid Eric will get dangerous makes it seem like whatever psychic/reincarnated/whatever nonsense is going on is meddling with his head and forcing him to act Raoul-esque whether he wants to or not. Eric, of course, is watching from a different rooftop for Reasons Known Only to the Script, and we get confirmation that yes, Erik weeps blood in the flashbacks because of Christine’s betrayal. I really doubt that’s a reference to any of the vampire Phantoms; I think it’s just because it’s that fabulously dramatic.

 

Lest we think that Kristen was in any way allowed to be a human being with personal desires, she delivers the usual tearful speech about how she can’t leave Eric even though he frightens and abuses her because “he’s HURTING”, one of those moments when Phantom pieces like to make it Christine’s job to fix Erik no matter what that means for her because what is she, a jerk? It’s interesting that she admits to Raymond here that she isn’t sure if she still loves him or not, but not interesting enough when she doesn’t elaborate and once again we’ll never heard about it again.

 

Erik’s mask’s elastic ties in the flashback are obviously twisted next to his ear, though, which is hilarious. I’m sorry. It’s not that I want to pick on the technical flaws which are probably due to budgeting and are way less problematic than the terrible writing and acting, but sometimes the accumulated detritus of the entire awfulness of this production gets to me.

 

Downstairs, Eric drops in on mom, who tells him that he’s being haunted by the original Erik, who is singing his song to him and forcing him to act in his stead. You would think this would finally explain what in the fuck is going on in this movie - GHOSTS! - but a second later she also talks about how Erik was also haunted by “the music”, which I guess is a metaphor for mental illness? Or something? The point is that we can’t blame Eric for things because he’s clearly being possessed or controlled or something, and Kristen’s mother, who is explaining all of this with a sort of cackling glee that does not seem to match describing how a dude is going to attack her daughter, says he won’t be able to stop himself.

 

When Kristen and Raymond come back downstairs, Eric is all pissy about how OBVIOUSLY she is CHEATING ON HIM, and I am pissy because Kristen has a restraining order on this dude AND has filed for divorce and yet her response is just a milquetoast, “oh, hi, what are you doing here?” instead of using an umbrella to beat his head in while calling the police. That would ruin our incoming scene, in which Erik chloroforms her in a fit of rage - somehow he just had chloroform-soaked cloths ON HIM, READY TO GO - and kidnaps her. The scene seems to think it will have us on the edge of our suspenseful seats, but the scuffle is not inspiring.

 

This flashback at least makes sense placement-wise, as it’s the moment when Erik kidnaps Christine, but it goes from Raoul watching Christine sing to a completely sourceless BOOMING CRASH NOISE, and then the movie opts to just remove Christine from the green screen suddenly to illustrate that she’s gone, and if I did not know what had just happened I would be unbelievably confused and I think the laughter coming out of me at this point has an edge that some might deem perhaps unhealthy.

 

You know, at its core, this is a sad motherfucking story. For Erik, yes, who became a real ghost when he died and got stuck in this permanent loop, but more importantly for Christine and her children, all of whom are being haunted forever by this asshole who makes their loved ones attack them. Dear fucking lord, that’s why this bloodline needs protecting - whatever the secret is, it can’t be more horrifying than that. Every woman in this family will see her loved ones lose their free will and be forced to abduct and hurt them. That’s spine-chillingly terrible and the fact that this movie doesn’t even notice it is yet another indictment against it.

 

Is there any way out of this? What if one of Christine’s descendents only has relationships with other women - will Erik still possess one of them? What if one of them is asexual or just never interested in romance and dating - will the curse be ineffective? What if one of them is infertile or chooses to have a surrogate carry her child - does that affect any of this? And, once again, HOW DID RAOUL’S AND MEG’S UNFORTUNATE GHOSTS GET ROPED INTO ALL THIS? Erik, let some people SLEEP.

 

That’s all some pretty good analysis, isn’t it? Guess what? I wasted it. I WASTED it on assuming that ANYTHING ABOUT THIS ICEBERG CRASH OF A MOVIE WAS GOING TO MAKE SENSE. I AM A FOOL.

 

You see, Persing now explains to his fellow CULT members that Eric’s flashbacks are actually hallucinations due to the drug he slipped into his drink a while back, which apparently he believed was their best shot at stopping the guy. They then gloss right past it (THAT was Plan A?!) to go back to yelling about how important the secret is and how no one can ever know, but I cannot move on because this means the entire movie I have been constructing desperate attempts to understand it and they have all been lies because it does not and never has made any sense whatsoever.

 

THESE ARE HALLUCINATIONS, NOT FLASHBACKS. There are no reincarnations and no descendents retreading their ancestors’ grounds. Raymond has nothing to do with Raoul and Eric has nothing to do with Erik. Meg and Persing are completely unrelated and just happen to have the same names. No one is possessed by anything and they’re all just doing these things in a massive chain of unrelated coincidences. Mama Daaé is just lying for shits and giggles. 

 

If you think that doesn’t make any sense, it’s because IT DOESN’T. We’ve been having flashbacks since way back near the beginning of the movie, long, long before Persing drugged Eric. Kristen has been having flashbacks, too, and she was never drugged at all. It’s painfully obvious that there was originally some other plot set up to explain all this, but at some point (probably when the film was cut down to half its length) it was changed to say that Eric was just hallucinating it all without the rest of the movie in any way supporting that OR EVEN FAILING TO CONSTANTLY CONTRADICT IT. This is a PERSONAL ATTACK ON EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO HAS OR EVER WILL WATCH THIS MOVIE.

 

The CULT has bigger fish to fry than the fact that their universe does not abide by the basic laws of logic, so Raymond and Persing go off to rescue Kristen while reminding each other to keep their hands at the level of their eyes (as you do, when you are re-enacting a story but it’s TOTALLY A COINCIDENCE) and Rousseau stays behind to ominously “take care of one more thing”. I was extremely grumpy because I thought he was going to murder Meg, who didn’t even ask to be involved in all this nonsense, but what he’s actually doing is going to blow you away, folks.

 

Kristen, meanwhile, wakes up in wedding attire, which is hilarious in this movie because she is already married to this dude. She’s in the middle of trying to DIVORCE him. Also, is this her original wedding dress? Did Eric go home and get it to dress her in? I can’t figure out where else his hallucinating ass got one on short notice. (Or maybe the dress itself is part of the hallucination. At this point, the movie stops trying to tell us, which in a film so much better it cannot exist on the same type of film as this one could be a neat way of inviting the audience to participate in Eric’s delusions and thus feel the same kind of helplessness.)

 

Everything has devolved to the point of the audience desperately wishing this was a parody because it’s so ridiculous and terrible, but not being given that, their one wish as they watch this film with the last breaths of oxygen remaining on their dying planet in the far future is that it ends soon. Eric is hallucinating that he’s running around in a full mask and cloak even though he isn’t, Raymond has a gun because he’s ACTION RAOUL (which is, funnily enough, something we actually saw in the 1943 film and, again, the ZX Spectrum game), and Christine is completely blasé about all of this, although it’s viewer’s choice whether it’s Mader’s complete lack of expression or McKee’s terrible voice acting that really sells it.

 

In fact, Kisgen is probably at his limited best in this scene as he stalks around saying Erik’s lines from the end of the novel to Kristen, but the scene cannot be interesting because Kristen does not in any way react to or answer him. She just sits there, silently, looking at him with mild disinterest. There are so many roads not taken here. What would he do if she broke from the script and said something that wasn’t in the novel, did something he didn’t expect? What if she actually got through to him? At the very least, we’d have gotten some tiny shimmer of something about Kristen herself and how she deals with all this. But instead, par for the course with this movie, she’s a lump who exists to be talked at. She could literally be replaced with a crash test dummy in all these scenes and nothing of value would be lost.

 

It’s time for Leroux’s torture chamber, which apparently Eric has had time to build a facsimile of even though that’s so ludicriously unlikely that I’ve gone cross-eyed. The movie makes no attempt to explain this, and Raymond and Persing nearly die in it so clearly it isn’t part of Eric’s hallucinations, so we’re just going to have to DEAL WITH IT. To increase the difficulty level of that, it’s greenscreened incredibly badly, so much so that it was mostly unrecognizable and the only thing telling us anything was happening was the two characters getting a very bright light shone on their faces while they yell and Christine, in a flashback, remarking on how warm the wall to the torture chamber is (but also that’s a hallucination APPARENTLY, so can we even count it?). In fact, it’s so wildly unclear what’s happening that until Raymond tries to put his gun in his mouth and Persing has to tackle him, I legitimately didn’t know what the fuck was going on.

 

(Also: Raymond, you have a gun. Shoot out some of the mirrors, you absolute waste of space. Or at least give surviving the torture at least a mild try. He didn’t even bother taking off his jacket, just went straight to suicide.)

 

As soon as we get a handle on all that, it’s time to go back to Rousseau and his “unfinished business”... which turns out to be Kristen’s mother. In the only genuinely creepy moment in the entire film, she looks up at him, smiling and obviously completely unaware of what’s happening, calling him her father (and tying things in to the Angel of Music concept in the original novel) as he moves forward to strangle her to death. Yes, the CULT has determined that the best way to protect the bloodline… is apparently to MURDER IT. The official explanation, in case that wasn’t horrible enough, is that since she has dementia, she might accidentally blurt out the secret to her daughter, so they’re killing her for her own good and it’s what she would have wanted. Since this is the justification given for people killing their elderly relatives when they don’t want to deal with them anymore the world over, it’s also horrifically ableist and ageist.

 

What the FUCK is going on with this movie.

 

Eric has vaguely returned to himself, at least enough to talk to Kristen and Gabriel (Persing’s first name, yes, he’s named after a messenger angel, I have given up on caring about anything anymore) instead of calling them Christine and the Persian, but he’s continuing to add entire reams of misogyny to this movie that it didn’t need. “She will either spend her life with me here or she will spend it in Hell where she belongs”? How did this get so much more sexist than both a novel written in the late nineteenth-century AND a musical from the 1980s? How did this happen and, more importantly, how do I fucking stop it?

 

I realize this is supposed to be moving, but Mader looks so bored and done with everything that her lines about how Eric doesn’t have to prove anything to her and how she loves him even when he isn’t winning Pulitzers are unconvincing to everyone, not to mention a chore to sit through. It’s a relief when Rousseau shows up to let Persing and Raymond out of the torture chamber just so we can watch something else, although both of them are coughing heavily because… of… light? Heat? I don’t fucking know.

 

Rousseau informs them that he’s bringing backup in the form of the police, who have been “instructed to shoot on sight”. Who the fuck are YOU, the Chief of Police? What is HAPPENING.

 

The secret is ALMOST SAFE, cry all the CULT members, but what the fuck, somehow there are five minutes left in this movie and it might as well be five eons because time is meaningless here in the Inferno, so we have to sit through Eric spending entirely too long stumbling through explaining how he figured it out before we can actually get to the reveal. Although this does bring us the truly incredible revelation that he figured out that Kristen was the secret descendent because he saw her legal name of Daaé on the divorce papers. Y’ALL. THIS MAN DID NOT KNOW HIS WIFE’S LEGAL NAME. THE ONE THAT WAS ALSO PRESUMABLY ON THEIR MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE AND ALSO THE TAXES I GUESS SHE DID ALONE EVERY YEAR. THIS IS INCREDIBLE.

 

(In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t know what her married name is. Eric doesn’t get a last name in this story, probably because the original Erik didn’t have one… so that means Kristen doesn’t get one, either. Once again, a handy little snapshot of her importance here.)

 

Rousseau rolls in to dramatically tell Eric to get away from Kristen, which he apparently needn’t have bothered with because Raymond just fucking SHOOTS him. I suppose this is similar to the 1990 television film again, although there’s probably a decency law preventing me from comparing the two. Then, I guess, the CULT just stands around while Eric makes an agonizingly slow confession of the secret to Kristen, even though they just shot him to stop him, because I guess everyone involved ran out of ways to try to make this make sense and just gave up.

 

Drumroll, please! The secret is… that the Phantom was really Christine’s father, and thus that her descendents are the result of incest. That’s it. That’s the secret.

 

Obviously, we can pause and note that the concept of the Phantom as Christine’s father is present in the 1943 film, where it was removed specifically to prevent audiences from accidentally thinking there might be incest involved, but restored in the 1987 Sanford/Green children’s novelization of that story. But I think it’s more important to A) establish that I need everyone to stop referring to him as Christine’s “lover” right after saying that because that’s incestuous rape, my dudes, and B) ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

 

Like, yes, obviously that makes the Phantom’s attempt to make her his wife and his demands on her much creepier and more terrible in a sexual context (although I think you could actually pull this off if you leaned in other directions; imagine a Phantom who felt Christine was obligated to stay with him because as his daughter she was the only person in the world who could and should love him, and who was not interested in her sexually but still in his confused vision of the world above felt he needed a “wife” to make him look legitimate), and it definitely makes Christine’s submission to save Raoul and the daroga even more agonizing. There are dimensions here, much as the film will ignore them. But we’re in THIS film, dealing with THIS plot, so: WHAT ON EARTH IS THE CULT FOR, THEN?

 

Sure, incest is a sucky thing to have in your family history, but it’s not like it would be more than a footnote after a generation or two; hell, Christine apparently moved to the States and knew no one there, so no one would ever know this unless she told them. And even if this was a terrible secret that could not be buried and must be the family’s shame forever more… why would OTHER PEOPLE care about this enough to FOUND A CULT about it? These are random people who aren’t even involved! They just recruited Raymond like a month ago! WHY DO THEY CARE?

 

I would say they care because they’re possessed by/descended from people who actually did care about protecting Christine - Meg, Raoul, the daroga - but we already established that ACTUALLY THEY ARE NOT, SO.

 

In spite of all this, Kristen is horrified by this news and runs outside, away from Eric’s dying body, to be sad about it while her husband expires inside, followed quickly by turning to confront the CULT which, it must be said, is in fact just three sad dudes. Let’s recap the CULT, shall we?

 

  • Lots of secret murders and the power to command the police

  • But also just like three guys, one of whom they just poached from college

  • Murdered Mama Daaé because she had dementia and might say the secret out loud

  • Drugged a dude into psychosis and then shot him too when he found out

  • But also continually helped him research this, apparently just so they could later drug and shoot him

  • And are now trying to justify themselves to Kristen because this was her family’s WISH

 

This cult makes absolutely no sense, and neither does Kristen yelling YOU WERE NEVER GOING TO TELL ME, WERE YOU at them. Well, two of these men are complete strangers to you, Kristen, and the third is trying to steal you from your husband, so you’re right, no, they probably were not. She also apparently has some sort of psychic flash enabling her to ask if they killed her mother even though there is no reason she would think this and she doesn’t know her mother is dead yet or was ever involved in any of this, and they’re very chill about explaining that yes, they did, but it really couldn’t be avoided and these things happen.

 

And then, in our final moment, Persing pulls out a gun and ALSO SHOOTS KRISTEN, KILLING HER. AND THAT’S THE END. Ending subtitles confirm that both Eric and Kristen did die, but that “the CULT remains active today”.

 

Okay.

 

Okay.

 

DOING WHAT?

 

CULT, we need to have a DISCUSSION.

 

EXPLAIN YOURSELVES.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

 

WHY ARE YOU PROTECTING THIS SECRET?

 

IF YOU JUST KILLED THE ONLY PEOPLE THE SECRET PERTAINS TO, ISN’T THERE NOTHING LEFT TO PROTECT?

 

THIS DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.

 

IF YOU WERE ALLOWED TO KILL THE DAAÉS YOU COULD HAVE DONE THAT A CENTURY AGO AND NOT HAD TO BE A CULT AT ALL.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

 

WHAT EVEN IS YOUR PLAN?

 

The final plate tells us ominously:

 

“The bloodline was destroyed.

 

The secret is safe….. For now….”

 

FROM WHAT?

 

YOU’LL NEVER KNOW.

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