The horror anthology Phobias tries to build on the idea that fear can be used as a weapon. It uses some relatively unknown phobias to create a sense of mystery for the viewers. Try as the various directors — Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, Chris von Hoffmann — might, they fail to capture the atmosphere or intensity needed for a true genre experience.
Robophobia begins the film. Johnny (Leonardo Nam), a computer expert, struggles to take care of his dad. Johnny is contacted by a mysterious being who wants to help him. This being has strange powers that enable it to electrocute people. After a while, the being forces Johnny to help it find victims, and he decides to seek revenge on employees of a government facility that’s experimenting on people by turning phobias into weaponized gas. He enters under the guise of being a patient, and while there, he hears others’ phobias.
Vehophobia is the story of Sami (Hana Mae Lee), whose boyfriend just dumped her for possibly deadly reasons. Hoplophobia tracks Alma (Martina García), a police officer and mom, who accidentally killed a child. Ephebiphobia follows teacher, Emma (Lauren Miller Rogen), during a terrible, potentially fatal day. And the final segment, Atelophobia, stars singer Macy Gray as Renee, an architect who wishes to redesign and renovate herself.
“…a government facility that’s experimenting on people by turning phobias into weaponized gas.”
The idea of weaponizing fear in the form of gas brings the famous DC universe character Scarecrow to mind. Even if you are not a comic book fan, you might still remember him from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Unfortunately, Phobias does not care to elaborate on this concept any further than what’s already said here. While each section’s titles work to establish what the phobia is, the filmmakers never explore them enough to get to why these characters fear imperfection or driving. These phobias just exist, so it is hard to empathize or root for anyone to make it out unscathed.
The origin of the strange being is never adequately explored. The plot in Phobias is based on this creature’s electrocuting abilities. Johnny tries to use it to avenge those who previously tortured his father in the facility. How can this being manifest itself as a phantom made of electricity? Why did it contact Johnny? What happens to it in the end? I have watched the movie several times to find any clues about the possible answers, but my attempts were fruitless.
The story never leaves the exposition phase. Almost three-quarters of it are dedicated to introducing the supporting cast and their fears. But they don’t play the slightest role in advancing the story or helping Johnny. Their impact on unfolding the events of the film is as neglectable as a background actor. However, these creepy interludes are the only enjoyable thing about Phobias. While never going into enough detail for the audience to be scared for the characters, they are visually interesting and attempt to be tense, which is more than can be said for Johnny’s tale.
Phobias feels unfinished, as the script leaves too many plotholes to be satisfying. The characters are only rough sketches, and the more prominent themes the filmmakers are aiming for never materialize. The film ends up neither truly scary nor all that engaging, despite the best efforts of some of the segments.
"…visually interesting and...tense..."