The rare contemporary screen ghost story favoring a slow build and minimal violence over blunt scare tactics, “Phasma Ex Machina” reps an impressive feature debut for writer-director Matt Osterman. Lacking the stars, sensationalism, production scale or “Paranormal Activity”-level scariness to court theatrical exposure, it will win fans in home formats while giving primary collaborators a career leg up.
Their parents’ car-accident demise leaves barely adult Cody (Sasha Andreev) and chubby younger brother, James (Max Hauser), in a fragile state, which James expresses by messing up at school. Meanwhile, Cody invests all his time (and the insurance payoff they live on) constructing an electromagnetic energy-field machine of fanciful purpose. It succeeds at what he intends — bringing the dead back to life, but not always the ones intended. While the siblings face hostile returnees from the other side, middle-aged widower Tom (a strong Matthew Feeney) is flummoxed by his beloved dead wife’s reappearance, just as he’s begun a new relationship. Reminiscent of “The Sixth Sense” in its subtle creepiness, and indie “Primer” in its tech-geek angle, pic isn’t a knockout but demonstrates professional skill and psychological acuity.