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Phobias (2021) Review

Phobias (not to be confused with Phobic) is an anthology film centred around the concept of what we fear and why. Too often films like this rely on the same common, and easily visualized fears, bugs, losing one’s looks, etc., not this time. The five phobias explored here are considerably more unusual, as is the wraparound story holding it all together.

Even the opening credits are different, set over what looks like footage from the film as viewed through a kaleidoscope. From this, we drop into the much less visually stunning world of Phobia’s first segment.

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“Robophobia” written and directed by Joe Sill (Stray) introduces us to Johnny (Leonardo Nam, Westworld, Finishing the Game) a computer geek who takes care of his ill father. He lives next door to a wife beater and is himself the victim of racist goons. One day, a mysterious phone call offers him help. But we all know that comes at a price.

“Outpost 37” is where Dr. Wright (Ross Partridge, Hangman, Stranger Things) performs his experiments into materializing and weaponizing, fear. It’s also where Johnny finds himself after the events of Phobia’s first segment. One of two segments from Jess Varley, it serves as Phobia’s wraparound.

Maritte Lee Go and co-writer Broderick Engelhard’s segment “Vehophobia” pits Sami (Hana Mae Lee, Pitch Perfect, The Babysitter) against a car with a mind of its own, a mind that seems to know her secrets.

“Ephebiphobia” is the fear of youth, or more accurately youths. Chris von Hoffmann (Monster Party) serves up a tale of a teacher (Lauren Miller Rogen, Superbad, Sausage Party) terrorized by one of her students (Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and her brothers.

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Actress Camilla Belle (When a Stranger Calls, 10,000 BC) makes her directorial debut with “Hoplophobia”. Alma (Martina García, Narcos) is a former SWAT officer left with a fear of guns after a raid gone bad.

Varley returns for the final segment “Atelophobia” which features singer Macy Gray (Training Day, The Crow: Wicked Prayer) as an architect with a fear of imperfection. And a ruthless way of dealing with it.

The wraparound ends Phobias on a fitting, if somewhat unexpected, note.

Phobias’ wraparound and first two stories had me expecting something along the lines of Black Mirror. And that tone clashes somewhat with the more human-centred segments that make up the rest of the film. Once you get past that, however, Phobias is an enjoyable collection of stories. While none of the segments are masterpieces, none are less than entertaining either. My biggest complaint is with “Hoplophobia” which is more about PTSD than fear of firearms. The story itself is good, it just doesn’t fit in with the film’s overall theme.

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There aren’t a lot of effects in Phobias, but what we do get is nicely done. There’s the occasional bit of practical gore, mostly in the final story. That was a bit of a surprise considering how much Chris von Hoffmann tossed at us in his feature Monster Party and the fact it channels the 80s slasher Hell High. If only he could have worked in that film’s impalement scene into the story.

The opening segment has a nice bit of SFX when we finally see what’s behind the voice on Johnny’s phone. It looks practical as well, although it could be well-done CGI given what it looks like. Sadly, the fire effects at the film’s end are not so well done CGI

If you like anthologies, then Phobias should be to your liking. If you’re on the fence about them, it’s worth giving it a chance. It’s also a chance to support directors who specialize in shorts and don’t usually get a chance to have their works widely seen.

Phobias is available on DVD and to stream via Vertical Entertainment.

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