Phobias (2021) poster

Phobias (2021)


USA. 2021.

Producer – Maurice Fadida, Eric B. Fleischman & Jess Varley, Photography – Nico Aguilar & Brock Engelhard, Music – Jacques Brautbar, Visual Effects Supervisor – Zach Zombek, Special Effects Supervisor – Simon White, Makeup Effects – Melissa “Mo” Meinhart, Production Design – Holly Trotta. Production Company – Kodiak Pictures/Defiant Studios.
Robophobia: – Director/Screenplay – Joe Sill. Outpost 37/Atelophobia:- Director/Screenplay – Jess Varley. Vehophobia:- Director – Maritte Go, Screenplay – Broderick Engelhard & Maritte Go. Ephebiphobia– Director/Screenplay – Chris von Hoffman. Hoplohobia:- Director/Screenplay – Camilla Belle.
Robophobia:- Leonardo Nam (Johnny), Stephen Park (Jung-soo), Micah Hauptman (Dirk). Outpost 37 :- Ross Partridge (Dr Wright). Vehophobia:- Hana Mae Lee (Sami), Ash Stymest (Harry). Ephebiphobia:- Lauren Miller Rogen (Emma Palmer), McKenzie Brooke Smith (Blaire), Joey Luthman (Grady), Benjamin Stockham (Isaac). Hoplohobia:- Martina Garcia (Alma), Anthony Gonzalez (Carlos), Lori Jean Wilson (Waitress). Atelophobia:- Macy Gray (Renee Boucher), Rushi Kota (Billy McNenry), Alexis Knapp (Lia), Monique Coleman (Natalie)


Robophobia:- Johnny, a bullied Korean man living with his father, is contacted by an A.I. that is able to access his electronic devices. It insists it wants do something about injustice in the world. Outpost 37 :- Johnny is placed in the psychiatric facility run by Dr Wright who is attempting to harness people’s fears for military purposes. Johnny is introduced to several other patients on the ward and hears their stories. Vehophobia:- Sami finds that her car has developed a life of its own after she ran down an elderly man during a mugging. Ephebiphobia:- Teacher Emma Palmer is left home alone after her husband calls to say he is staying at work. She texts a man she is having an affair with to see if he is available. The house is then invaded by three children who announce that they intend to kill her. Hoplohobia:- Alma suffers post-traumatic shock as a result of seeing people shot during a brutal police invasion of her home as a child. Atelophobia:- Renee Boucher runs a successful architecture firm with an autocratic hand. When there are problems with one of the designs, she gets three junior staffers to pull an all-nighter but there are sinister plans afoot.

Anthologies are films that tell multiple stories within the runtime of a single film – there has been a long tradition of these in the horror genre going back to the silent era. (For a more detailed listing see Anthology Films). The idea of patients in an asylum telling their stories as a framing device was first conducted in Asylum (1972) and also appears in Patient Seven (2016), while Fear Clinic (2015) was a single story film spun out from an anthology series where Robert Englund treats patients in a device for their fears.

The first episode comes from Joe Sill, who had previously made a host of short films and the full-length horror film Stray (2019). The episode makes you think of something like Her (2013), albeit played as a horror film where the A.I. Samantha becomes something malevolent. The problem with the episode is the film’s running time – at 85 minutes, Phobias is a relatively short genre anthology. In this episode, we barely even get any introduction of the A.I., let alone any explanation of where it comes from, while nothing is done to establish Leonardo Nam’s connection to it before it goes amok in some cheap-looking electrical visual effects.

The second episode Outpost 37 is actually the wraparound – the first time I have ever seen this appear after one of the episodes. This introduces us to the sinister psychiatric institute where Leonardo Nam is taken and meets the other patients. They either tell him their stories or are placed in a machine that appears to do so. In the wrap-up at the end, it is revealed that doctor Ross Partridge is conducting experiments in order to weaponise fear for the military.

Macy Gray in the Atelophobia episode of Phobias (2021)
Macy Gray as an architect in the Atelophobia episode
Lauren Miller Rogen stalked by children in the Ephebiphobia episode of Phobias (2021)
Lauren Miller Rogen stalked by children in the Ephebiphobia episode

Vehophobia comes from Maritte Go, a Filipino-American director who subsequently went on to direct Black As Night (2021) for Blumhouse. This is one of the weaker episodes. Hana Mae Lee drives a car that develops a life of its own before we find at the end that she used it to run down a mugging victim – shades of The Twilight Zone episode You Drive (1964) where Edward Andrews finds his car starts doing its own thing after fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run. The possessed car effects fail to come off and this is a weak story.

The best episode is Ephebiphobia, which means a fear of teenagers. This comes from Chris von Hoffman who had previously made the horror films Drifter (2016), Monster Party (2018) and the subsequent Devil’s Workshop (2022). This works with tight tension as Lauren Miller Rogen (otherwise known as Mrs Seth Rogen) appears in a Home Invasion story, which gets abruptly turned on its head in a very effective twist. This works perfectly in its tension, the performances from all involved and the tightness of its writing.

Hoplohobia, which means a fear of guns, is a directorial debut for actress Camilla Belle, known for films like When a Stranger Calls (2006) and 10,000 B.C. (2008). This is all set-up – a woman suffers from PTSD because of a police shooting in her barrio home. We see echoes play out in later life with her son at a restaurant. On the other hand, there is no dramatic payoff – it is set-up that never goes anywhere.

The final episode Atelophobia comes from Jess Varley, better known as an actress, who also directed the wraparound segments Outpost 37. R&B singer Macy Gray makes the least convincing architect in the history of cinema. Nevertheless, the episode has an effective twist that reveals she is a Frankenstein-like patchwork creation. This is an episode that feels like it really needed a feature-length treatment to do it justice and seems too brief to fully work.

Trailer here

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