REVIEW: The Phantom (2021)

The Phantom is one of the newest Netflix true-crime documentary films that probably deserved a miniseries instead. The documentary covers the 1983 murder case of a convenience store attendant, Wanda, in Corpus Christie, TX. Carlos DeLuna was found shortly after the fatal stabbing in the area, hiding under a car. DeLuna proclaims his innocence, insisting someone named Carlos Hernandez was the culprit. DeLuna refuses to take a plea deal, which would have gotten him time in prison. Instead, he takes a gamble, goes to a jury trial, is convicted of Capital Murder, and is sentenced to death. Ultimately, it’s carried out, and the second half of the documentary begins.

The first half is scant with detail, just the basic facts of the crime and the prosecution and defence’s arguments. They interviewed the family members, witnesses, prosecutors, and lawyers. The most interesting aspect of the first part was when they reenacted portions of the testimony in the courtroom where the trial occurred. Police officers were notably absent from the entire documentary. Apparently, the police looked for this Carlos Hernandez person. They allegedly could not identify him and told the courts that this person was a figure of DeLuna’s imagination.  

The Phantom

The second part of the documentary is much more detailed. Over twenty years after the murder, it turned out that Hernandez did exist. The dude was a complete monster and was well-known by the police because he’d actually murdered someone before. Hernandez bragged that his “tocayo” (lookalike) was put to death for his crime. It turns out Hernandez had dirt on everyone, and people were terrified because snitches get stitches.

The Phantom Review

The location was one of the main reasons I watched the film, other than my general interest in true crime. Corpus is near the coast, and you usually have to drive through it to get to Padre Island. That’s about all I’ve ever wanted to do in Corpus. I had also never heard of this case, so it was new, and I didn’t already know what had happened. It was horrifying to start a documentary with a live recording of someone being murdered. What’s a little bonkers about this case was that it was solely based on eyewitness testimonies, but that was turned on its head when those witnesses were used in the film’s second half. Both DeLuna and Hernandez looked alike, so it is understandable that the witnesses honestly couldn’t tell the difference in the dark.

This story was interesting enough to be an entire series rather than an 82-minute film. It was too rushed and needed to be fleshed out more. Compressing everything into the short runtime didn’t end up working.

The Phantom Documentary | 82min | July 2, 2021 (United States) 6.4
Director: Patrick ForbesSummary: Carlos DeLuna was arrested in 1983 aged 21 for the murder of Wanda Lopez, and protested his innocence until his execution, declaring that it was another Carlos who committed the crime.


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