Dir- Rory Abel
Starring- Michael Jefferson, Emma Dubery, Sarah Schoofs, Peter Gregus, Andrew Ruth, Debbie Rochon
UK DVD Release 26th Jan 2015 from Image Entertainment
With a title like PHOBIA, Rory Abel’s film certainly has a straight forward and specific one word title, and certainly a subject that is pretty much meant for horror. Phobia’s themselves are a constant and terrifying thing for anyone to suffer, whether it be of heights, spiders or clowns, and therefore placed in the context of the horror genre, it allows a film to get under your skin and creep you out in basic primeval terror.
The story’s focus is on Jonathan (Jefferson) who has been suffering from agoraphobia (the fear of going outside into public spaces); ever since the death of his wife in a car crash over a year ago. With only house visits from his psychiatrist, Dr Edmondson (Gregus) and occasional delivery’s of DVD’s and grocery’s from a friend, Taylor (Ruth), Jonathan has pretty much cut off contact from the outside world, only maintaining a living as an online transcriptor. It’s only when Taylor goes away and he gets a girl, Bree (Dubery), to drop off the grocery’s and Jonathan starts to become more approachable and develops an attraction and eventual relationship with her.
Yet his already occurring visions of seeing his dead wife and a dark figure of a women in black start to gradually become worse and slowly he imagines killing visitors or intruders in his house, leading to a breakdown in his mental state, though at the same time Abel throws in the trick or question of whether Jonathan is actually experiencing this himself due to a mental deterioration, played in part by the prescription drugs he takes, or is the forces at work against him supernatural?
Admittedly this is a nice touch, if not entirely original that lends an extra edge to PHOBIA, especially in the film’s final pay off shot, which nicely leads the viewer to question the past 80 minutes of seeing a man slowly lose his mind. PHOBIA is at times a well told story that benefits from its use of one location. Abel shoots the house to an extent that its narrow corridors and hallways seem slightly suffocating to the central character, and it’s the use of a location shoot that works and the house itself is a fantastic looking townhouse interior, that helps towards the films atmosphere.
Jefferson manages to work well with a role requiring him to be on screen most of the time, and despite some slight wooden delivery of lines he approaches Jonathan’s mental breakdown with confidence, though some of his character development seems a bit rushed or contrived, especially in his relationship with Bree, as even though he mourns the loss of his wife and feels responsible for her death, it’s not long before he’s off screwing the delivery girl, and this seems a slight contradiction to his character, and could of been done with a bit more restraint.
Dubery is not bad in her role as Bree, and manages to be a more down to earth character needed for Jonathan’s more closed off role, though again as with Jefferson’s character there seems to be a bit of slight wooden delivery of lines. There is also a fantastic brief cameo from genre fave Debbie Rochon, who has a great time chewing the scenery as the sort of bible caller/Jehovah’s witness that you would not like to have knocking on your front door. As much as I enjoyed PHOBIA part of me just felt that it was lacking something, or some edge.
It knows where to be going in its vision of the breakdown of the main protagonist, yet this path, while being occasionally well made, inevitably is predictable and it becomes apparent what will happen to make things go wrong or which character or characters will have their fate sealed. It could have had or gone in another darker direction, or a more broken up style of narrative to immerse the audience even more into Jonathan’s fractured psychosis, though of course as an independent film, budgetary and time constraints might have prevented Abel from approaching a wider vision and it’s too his credit that he has managed to make an entertaining psychological horror, that is watchable but still carry’s the nagging feeling that we’ve seen this done before.