Fear Watching Another Anthology Ever Again with Phobias (2021)
First Non-Festival Release: March 19, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, Chris von Hoffmann
Writer: Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, Chris von Hoffmann, Broderick Engelhard
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Starring: Leonardo Nam, Macy Gray, Hana Mae Lee
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Patients at a secret government hospital are subjected to a series of terrifying experiments to exploit their darkest fears. Once the patients are hooked up to the machine, we learn the root cause of their anxieties in flashbacks they must relive. A man makes a terrifying friend with a mysterious force within his phone leading to deadly consequences. Cars dish out justice for a terrible crime. One woman’s home is invaded one quiet evening by some unusual visitors. A past mistake pushes a mother to take drastic measures when protecting her son. Employees of a successful architecture firm deal with the ridiculously high standards of their boss.
Phobias is an irritatingly below-average anthology that provides well-worn scares and stories.
Phobias reeks of cliches that feel cartoonish at best and eyerolling at worst. One of the hardest things to understand about Phobias is the patients are not actually phobic before their traumatic experiences. Some of the links are tenuous at best ala “Veophobia” and “Ephibiphobia.” Truthfully, the only segment that dives into the actual fear is “Hoplophobia.” The rest mostly use the traumatic experience as a way to catapult their lead character into the clutches of the secret government organization. Sure, their experiences could lead them to develop that fear later, but they all don’t have the aversion one would see in patients with extreme and (another key component) irrational fears.
Interesting ideas are brought up but never explored. In one segment, a woman hallucinates schematics of the dimensions of a young man’s smile. While in another, technology is only explored through the confines of traditional television, security cameras, phones, and computers. “They’re weaponizing fear and using it on their own people?” Phobias isn’t subtle about its message but even then, it doesn’t develop its conceit beyond this singular line and a few inferences to continuing the unrest.
The performances in Phobias are rough, with many of the actors not hitting the emotional notes they need to for a believable performance. Underdeveloped and largely one-note, the writing of the characters themselves don’t do the cast any favors in bringing someone to life. Each segment is littered with pedestrian dialogue that constantly one-ups itself in inanity. At one point a character screams “get the fuck out of my office” three times before another scurries out of a poor man’s We Work station after making a joke about Kevin Bacon. This is the caliber of writing Phobias employs. Leonardo Nam and Hana Mae Lee give the best performances here, and thankfully Nam is the one leading the picture, so the audience is shielded in a sense.
There isn’t much more to say about Phobias that doesn’t retread the criticisms above. Despite a few stronger segments the entire film crumbles under the weight of inconsistencies between directors. One sort of positive feedback to give surrounds the way Phobias hides its budget. There are not many moments where Phobias employs the use of effects, heavy editing is typically favored, but when it does the team does a serviceable job of pulling off its vision. While its actual set leaves much to be desired, it gets away with plenty due to some smart decisions in the editing room.
Anthologies are always hit or miss and it’s best to enter with the expectation that at least one segment will resonate with you less. Unfortunately for Phobias, most of the shorts miss the mark decidedly. Terrible acting, shaky pacing, and poor storytelling makes this exploration of fears one that is best not travelled. Of the six chapters in this story Chris von Hoffmann’s “Ephebiphobia” hits the hardest. Maritte Lee Go’s “Vehophobia” and Joe Sill’s “Robophobia” are uneven but mostly fine enough to distract from the other segments. Outside of genre enthusiasts who have seen most everything else and those who are specifically interested in unique fears, there isn’t much to gain from watching Phobias.
Overall Score? 4/10