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Film Review: ‘Phobias’ Fumbles With a Curious Idea

Unique anthologies are a refreshing and fun twist on horror movies. They are typically praised for being easy to watch and inventive. Some anthologies that have earned these admirations have been V/H/S, The ABC’s of Death, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes among others. While they may not always showcase the highest caliber of film, they introduce new ideas that are easy to digest in the form of memorable shorts. When a new horror anthology attempts this same feat and misses the boat, it is beyond disappointing.

Phobias tells the story of five different characters and their phobias. Viewers meet each individual in a facility where their fears are harvested by machines, with the ultimate goal being harvesting fear as a weapon. Through these segments we see their stories in a series of shorts that all have different writers and directors.

In theory, this is a great idea for a gripping, imaginative scary movie. In reality, Phobias has too many flaws to be considered another great anthology. The first obvious issue lays in the fact that, while the film targets different phobias, it lists them using their long, confusing, technical terms without any translation. This leads viewers to have to either Google the word to figure out what the short is going for, or rack their brain to decipher what the word could mean based on the content. The content is not always crystal clear in what they are showing, so most will turn to Google in this situation, which takes your eyes off of the screen and takes away from the movie as a whole.

While the short stories connect in the obvious way of the actors all being held in the same facility, that is where the similarities end. It’s difficult not to wonder if connecting these stories in other ways—even if they are small Easter egg type hints—would have benefitted this film greatly. If more stimulating background images or hints at other stories in the film were utilized, keeping audiences attention would have been a much easier feat. If these hints were utilized and easily missed, then it’s possible that they were simply unsuccessful.

The best acting in the entire picture comes from Hana Mae Lee. Despite being given a subpar screenplay and short, the actress fully inserts herself into her role of Sami. Furthermore, her short depicting Vehophobia is possibly the strongest short that is shown, but that might solely be because of her portrayal. Besides Lee’s performance, acting talent is lacking, but it is hard to blame the actors when the dialogue and stories they have been given leave much to be desired. Actor Leonardo Nam also delivers an above average performance given the content that he was faced with in the short Robophobia.

The most bizarre acting in the film comes from Macy Gray as well as Anthony Gonzalez. While Gray plays a sadistic and mysterious character in the short Atelophobia, her delivery is all over the place. It’s clear that Gray did not connect to this character in a way that would have benefitted her performance, and her portrayal seems to contradict the phobia she’s meant to have at times. Gonzalez plays the son of a woman with PTSD in Hoplophobia, and his acting feels very unnatural from the beginning. His line delivery feels extremely scripted, his mannerisms are unusual, and it’s obvious to viewers that there is little on screen chemistry between him and actress Martina Garcia. 

Directing wise, while there are many directors that have collaborated on this movie, none of their works in this picture will truly be remembered and regarded. Maritte Lee Go takes the prize of the most well done directing out of the group, but yet again, this very well may be mostly because of Lee’s acting chops. Most of these directors have dabbled in this line of work for a good amount of time, but some are brand new to directing. Actress Camilla Belle attempted her first bout of writing and directing with the short Hoplophobia. Unfortunately, it shows, and is the weakest short out of the five, with what is easily the worst acting.

Overall, Phobias will leave viewers wanting much more than it offers. If you’d like to make your own decisions about Phobias, you can find it on demand, digital and in select theatres beginning March 19, 2021. Also, leave in the comments some of your favorite horror anthologies.

SCORE: ★1/2

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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