PHOBIAS is an anthology horror based on five different phobias (robophobia, vehophobia, ephebiphobia, hoplophobia, and atelophobia). Each segment is directed and written by a different director: Joe Sill (segment “Robophobia”); Maritte Lee Go and Broderick Engelhard (segment “Vehophobia”); Camilla Belle (segment “Hoplophobia”); Jess Varley (segments “Atelophobia”, “Outpost 37”), and Chris von Hoffmann (segment “Ephebiphobia”).
The plot starts with Robophobia where we get a glimpse of our down-on-his-luck, hard-working, RC-Cola-swigging Johnny (Leonardo Nam). He doesn’t have many friends and takes care of his ill father in the most run-down of run-down apartments. After being targeted by a racial attack and feeling powerless over his situation, he meets an unlikely friend…of the A.I. kind.
And just like its predecessor, Taybot, this A.I. entity goes dark – real quick. Soon the idea of righteousness and good/evil goes a bit too extreme and Johnny begs for the life of his dying father against this dangerous, now corporeal, entity…
Only to suddenly be taken to a secret government facility that looks like it was built in the ’50s, with equipment from the ’70s, and staffed by early ’90s mad psychological-scientists. The lead scientist (Ross Partridge) gives the exposition of why Johnny is here – to get fear-juiced. That’s right, in a very Scarecrow plot, these five subjects relive their traumas and phobias, and…somehow it’s put in a canister for gas. To be weaponized…?
Anyway, that’s how we then see each character introduced and I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because it’s worth a watch.
So, let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of this story and the characters.
First of all, let’s talk about Macy Gray. Yes, that Macy Gray, for all the late ’90’s kids out there. The Macy Gray that choked on goodbyes and stumbles on walking away…Well, she actually stumbles in PHOBIAS, too, but while in character. In fact, she portrays one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a very long while and her acting is flawless. Who knew? Well, apparently casting did, because she is absolutely killer in this role. I need this segment to be a full-length feature. Jess Varley, I’m counting on you. Send me your Kickstarter deets.
And that’s not to say that the other segments weren’t good. The actors took it above and beyond in their roles. I was happy to see Hana Mae Lee in another horror film. Leonardo Nam really shone through with his dramatic acting and I’d love for him to be in more horror. In fact, there is not one- er…well, okay Ross Partridge needed to be at an 11 for that role and he played it too safe. But aside from that, there is not one actor who doesn’t nail it in PHOBIAS.
But, let’s talk about the core concept of the anthology itself. As this is an anthology, the writing and concept are vastly different from a straight-forward feature film. As LiteraryDevices.com explains, “This is done by linking together stories, poems, and plays, by their themes, characters, and places. The successful editor puts pieces together to make sense – not merely as individual works, but as a whole unit with coherence, that otherwise might be overlooked.”
This, unfortunately, is usually the weakness of most horror anthologies. Most often the stories are cut together with very little theme or reason for being together and sharing the same universe. If you were to take one short out of the equation, the overarching story would continue with little change, and that’s a problem.
Yes, there’s a common theme in this anthology (fear, duh), but the stories do so little to build off of each other, any one of them could be replaced by another story and we would be none the wiser. The parts are good (terrific, in fact), but it doesn’t enhance the “whole unit”. The sum of PHOBIA’s parts just doesn’t equal the whole.
The shell of the story was flimsy and haphazard. We get introduced too late to the concept of the anthology and the ending is weak. It reminds me of 1970s anthologies when they would take short stories and scrape them together to try to make an anthology. It just doesn’t work, especially when the anthology’s stories range from supernatural to down-to-earth. In what world do these people exist – in the real world or an otherworldly one? We don’t know.
One shining example of a terrific anthology is 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat. Each story had its own breadth of characters and tones, but all were supernatural and all were interwoven within the shell of the story. These characters actually existed in the same world, at the same time. I just don’t buy that the Cop who has P.T.S.D. lives in the same world as Lightning Dude in PHOBIAS.
All that being said, I bet you think I’m going to give this a negative review. And to that, I say, “You’re very wrong, Buster. And, also, don’t tell me how to live my life!”
Nope, I liked this movie very much. In fact, I point these out because I hope that these filmmakers continue their craft and only better themselves in future projects. The lighting (Eric S. Quintana), music (Jacques Brautbar), editing (Chad Sarahina), and cinematography (Nico Aguilar and Broderick Engelhard) were absolutely stellar. The special effects were mostly practical and gorgeous to behold (Simon White), especially the Macy Gray and Lightning Dude segments. There were legit scenes that could and should win awards.
Bottom line: There are some really good ideas and concepts in here, as well as technical skills, but the story needed to be more cohesive. However, at the end of the day, you should get over your neophobia and give PHOBIAS a try.
PHOBIAS will be released in select theaters, On-Demand, and Digital on March 19, 2021.
Disclaimer/Editor’s Note: Nightmarish Conjurings doesn’t endorse seeing movies in theaters at this time due to the pandemic. Please consider VOD and/or Drive-In options and, if you go to the theater, please be safe.