Synopsis: Jonathan MacKinlay is a man trapped inside his home by his own mind. Suffering from agoraphobia, caused by a car accident that took his wife’s life; his existence has been reduced to a monotonous repetition of identical days. As his dread and self-loathing escalate, an onslaught of gruesome visions and twisted, waking nightmares begins to gnaw away at his last shred of sanity. Are these ghastly visions imaginary, private demonsÂ or is he being victimized by a very real entity of infinite terror and unspeakable evil?
Release Date: November 21, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Horror
The original title of Phobia was Alone. For some reason, possibly to avoid confusion with either the 2007 Siamese twin ghost movie from Thailand or the upcoming Sci-Fi film of the same name, Alone became Phobia. This opened up a whole new can of worms, as the film might now be mistaken for the 1980 John Huston horror movie or, more likely, the other 2013 mystery/thriller that was called Phobia. Well, this review is for the Rory Douglas Abel-directed movie, not the Jon Keeyes one.
Phobia is about a young man named Jonathan “Mac” MacKinlay (Michael Jefferson from Sheer) who developed agoraphobia, or the fear of wide-open spaces, after being involved in a car accident that took the life of his wife, Jane (Gut‘s Sarah Schoofs). Feeling guilty over Jane’s death, Mac is forced by his extreme anxiety to stay inside his home, only getting occasional visits from his psychiatrist, Dr. Edmondson (Peter Gregus from Turtle Hill, Brooklyn), and his best friend, Taylor (True to the Heart‘s Andrew Ruth). While locked away, Mac has visions of Jane’s ghost, but also has terrifying experiences with another shadowy spirit and a mysterious home invader. One day, Mac gets a new grocery delivery girl named Bree (Emma Dubery from Korinne) who helps him to break out of his shell. However, the closer he gets to Bree, the more frightening his supernatural experiences become. Mac struggles to have a normal life with Bree, but his past doesn’t want to let him move on.
Phobia is one of those movies that makes the viewer question what they’ve just seen, and that’s usually a good thing; it keeps the movie fresh in the audiences mind while they ponder their own answers. For Phobia, the answers don’t come easy. The viewer is left to wonder how much of what happened onscreen was actually happening and how much was only in Mac’s head. Which of Mac’s worlds is reality and which is imaginary? The viewer sees things that only Mac can see, but does that mean that they’re not real? The unanswered questions that are raised by Phobia don’t send the viewer home unfulfilled, just curious…and thinking about the film for the next several days.
In a lot of ways, Phobia is a typical modern low-budget horror movie. The script, written by director Rory Douglas Abel and Matthew Barnes, tells a story that is creepily creative, but the execution is a little strange. There seems to be little middle ground in the movie; everything is either horrible or brilliant. Inconsistency is the film’s chief problem. For example, while the plot is suspenseful and innovative, the dialogue sounds forced, which leads to some awkward moments for the actors. The technical aspects of the film are a mixed bag, too; there is some great stuff going on photographically, but the lighting is so bad that it’s hard to see much of it. The sound is possibly the most head shaking aspect of the film, as there are a ton of cool sound design things happening, but the basic mix is uneven. Still, for all of the elements that seem amateurish or rushed, the film nevertheless manages to pack a decent punch. Phobia may be flawed, but it’s still pretty freaky.
There is something about digital high definition video that, if extreme attention to detail isn’t paid, can make a film look cheap. Today’s HD cameras see everything perfectly clearly, so every little thing has to be just right or the picture ends up looking like a student film. Phobia suffers a bit from this phenomenon. It could be the lack of fill lighting in the scenes, which causes increased shadows. It also could be a lens choice, with the glass providing too broad of a focal plane so that too much of the frame is crystal clear. Or, it could just be the washed out, dull color palette that the film uses. Director of photography Mike Aransky (The Land of College Prophets) has a good eye for angles, movement, and camera placement, but the images that are captured seem flat and uninspired. After a while, the viewer gets used to the dark and shadowy photography so that they are no longer distracted from the meat of the story, but it is bothersome for the first act or so of the movie. The poor lighting could either have been a budgetary or an aesthetic decision – if a film has a small budget, it’s understandable, but if the photographic choices made in Phobia were conscious decisions on the part of the filmmakers, they purposely ruined their film.
There is a lot to like about the sound design in Phobia, despite a few shortcomings. The sound, mixed by John Avarese, has a real sonic collage feel to it; there’s a wall of sound instead of individual effects. When Mac opens the door to his house, the numerous noises that pour in are the noises of the world of which he is deathly afraid. The layered soundscapes swell dynamically and dramatically in volume in a way that punctuates the frightening parts of the movie. Avarese also did the music to the film, and the score is tied intimately to the sound design, creating more of an aural texture than a soundtrack. As noted before, the sound is not perfect; there are a couple of missed opportunities for effects and the audio levels fluctuate wildly in a few places, but the creativity more than makes up for the technical limitations. Avarese’s sonic landscapes are a big part of what makes Phobia an effective movie.
Phobia is a different kind of horror movie, so it provides different kinds of scares. Of course, there are the ghostly scares, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t types of shocks that are standard in the haunted house subgenre. Phobia is packed full of suspense, and the tension is rarely broken by cheap red-herring scares. In fact, there really aren’t any jump scares at all in Phobia. The film just builds up the dread and despair, coupling it with some bloody violence every once in a while to change up the pace. There’s a much more subtle idea of fear at work in Phobia, but it is fear nonetheless. On that level, Phobia is scarier than many of the movies that have hit theaters this year.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Rory Douglas Abel
- Screenwriter(s): Rory Douglas AbelMatthew Barnes
- Cast: Emma Dubery (Bree)Michael Jefferson (Jonathan MacKinlay)Sarah Schoofs (Jane) Andrew Ruth (Taylor)
- Editor(s): Rory Douglas Abel
- Cinematographer: Mike Aransky
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Chad Cox
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA