I’m not usually a fan of horror anthologies. Getting a consistent style, tone and general quality can be tricky when you’re dealing with egos and nobody is truly “in charge” to enforce standards.
Lucky for me that my aversion to the genre has never sunk to the level of a “fear.” Because nobody’s come up with a name for such a phobia yet.
“Phobias” is an anthology of five tales, tied together by a linking story, written and directed by former child (and “When a Stranger Calls”) star Camilla Belle, actress/director Jess Varley, Joe Sill (“Stray”), Chris von Hoffmann and Maritte Lee Go. And although uneven in chills, it’s a cohesive, consistent in tone and generally interesting collection of tales built around obscure “phobias.”
There’s “Robophobia,” starring Leonardo Nam as a bullied programmer contacted — online — by some AI entity which longs “to be a part of your world,” and use its access to data and “the grid” to “help” our hero deal with abusive neighbors, street thugs and the like. Sill directed this opening story, which has a couple of hair-raising moments.
An unidentified online presence that knows your name, what you’re wearing, what your neighbors are like, that you take care of your invalid father, and your BANK balance?
Maritte Lee Go’s “Vehophobia” shows us a young woman (Hannah Mae Lee) whose boyfriend just dumped her, and the murderous reason why, and why her car is suddenly acting up on her.
Belle’s “Hoplophobia” explores the PTSD of a single-mom cop who accidentally killed a kid, von Hoffman’s intriguing story “Ephebiphobia” puts a middle school teacher at the mercy of children who figure she’s wronged them and Varley’s gory “Atelophobia” gives us singer/actress Macy Gray as a perfectionist architect interested in giving herself a few structural and cosmetic “renovations.”
The connecting story is generic in the extreme. And none of the individual segments is developed deeply enough to show us the full feature on that one chapter that might have been. Well, maybe “Robophobia” and “Ephebiphobia” do.
Some of the script “problem solving” is effects-driven and lazy. We don’t need a psychotronic manifestation of an entity for the world wide web to feel threatening. We see the segment titles, but your average viewer isn’t going to know what this or that “phobia” is, and the segments are more vaguely connected to that fear than is readily apparent.
Did they mean for viewers to watch this on TV, pulling out their phones to look up “definitions?”
On the whole, though, this segmented movie isn’t bad. Still not a big fan of the genre, but “Phobias” works as often as not, and that’s saying something.
MPA Rating: R for violence including some disturbing material, language throughout and some sexual references
Cast: Leonardo Nam, Hannah Mae Lee, Martina García, Ross Patridge and Macy Gray
Credits: Scripted and directed by Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Chris von Hoffmann, Joe Sill, Jess Varley. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:26