Phobias Synopsis: Five dangerous patients, suffering from extreme phobias at a government testing facility, are put to the ultimate test under the supervision of a crazed doctor and his quest to weaponize fear. The film’s story is told in an anthology structure with five directors crafting the six parts.
Anthology storytelling is a complex beast. The idea of multiple filmmakers contributing their own stylistic sections into one narrative has an initial allure, but it seems a majority of these offerings feel every bit of their patchwork design. Recent examples like the V/H/S and ABCs of Death films only worked in scattershot windows, never finding the consistency or cohesiveness to pull off their unique set-up.
The latest to attempt the anthology gauntlet Phobias takes a horror lens towards five damaged patients suffering at a government facility. While riddled with inconsistencies, the film’s team of upcoming filmmakers (Camilla Belle, Mariette Go, Joe Still, Jess Varley, and Chris von Hoffman – each writing and directing their own vignettes) craft a fittingly gnarly genre vehicle from their intriguing conceits.
In their efforts to mesh the supernatural with the super-powered, the filmmaker quintet establishes its own macabre identity onscreen. Each vignette utilizes muted color tones and ingenious techniques to maximize the film’s low-budget assets, setting a foreboding sense of atmosphere that permeates through every frame. The five filmmakers continuously impress with their ability to push the premise’s creative elements to their limits. Between the film’s series of haunting specters and bloody encounters, Phobias effectively digs its nails under the audience’s skin.
I also credit the quintet for approaching their subject matter with a sense of humanity. While their stories vary from a content perspective (they range from an isolated man discovering newfound powers to a woman suffering from PTSD), each finds cohesion through the filmmakers’ depictions of mental degradation. I love how the visceral horrors manifest the characters and magnify their deeply-seated traumas, with Phobias operating at its best when connecting itself to the struggles of its societal outsider protagonists.
Phobias is as spirited as they come, but some of its ambitions outstretch the film’s execution. The individual segments fit nicely from an atmospheric and content perspective. I just wish the central narrative took more time to shade in its intriguing ideas. Ruminations centered on mental health struggles and the disenfranchised treatment of outsiders ultimately go nowhere, while the film’s central framing device does little to give these characters presence (the ensemble cast is fine, but the characters feel like empty ciphers). At its 85-minute runtime, Phobias is a bit too slight to reach its more meaningful goals.
I admire what Phobias accomplishes within its genre framework. The quintet of talented filmmakers assembles an enthralling yarn from their limited assets while displaying promise as potential stalwarts in the horror-sphere going forward.
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