Combustible Celluloid
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With: Leonardo Nam, Lauren Miller Rogen, Hana Mae Lee, Martina García, Macy Gray, Alexis Knapp, Charlotte McKinney, Benjamin Stockham, Monique Coleman, Micah Hauptman, Anthony Gonzalez, Joey Luthman, Ross Partridge, Steve Park, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Rushi Kota, Sisa Grey, Gerardo de Pablos, Evan Holtzman
Written by: Camilla Belle, Broderick Engelhard, Maritte Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, Chris von Hoffmann
Directed by: Camilla Belle, Maritte Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, Chris von Hoffmann
MPAA Rating: R for violence including some disturbing material, language throughout and some sexual references
Running Time: 85
Date: 03/19/2021

Phobias (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fear and Present Danger

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An insanely bloody anthology horror movie by five diverse directors, Phobias offers a much cleverer structure than usual; it's ambitious as well as playful, and it all seems like a single, cohesive piece.

A Korean man, Johnny (Leonardo Nam) lives a solitary life taking care of his ailing father, and enduring racist attacks from local thugs. Online, he is approached by an unknown entity, asking to be his friend. Johnny reluctantly agrees, discovering that his new friend has special powers. But there's a price to pay.

Then, Johnny wakes up in a kind of prison/science lab where he meets four others — criminal Sami (Hana Mae Lee), teacher Emma (Lauren Miller Rogen), ex-cop and single mom Alma (Martina García), and architect Renee (Macy Gray) — and hears their stories of crimes committed, based on their fears, or phobias. Meanwhile, the sinister Dr. Wright (Ross Partridge) runs diabolical experiments on the prisoners, literally extracting their fears to be used as a weapon. Can Johnny and the others escape?

Most horror anthologies have a loose, thin wraparound idea that ties together its stories, but Phobias jumps right in to one of the stories, and then brings it around to the central story. This time the central story is the actual point, rather than a connective tissue. It's a dark movie, though, with very few actually scary parts. It instead focuses on panic, violence, obsession, and the concept of fear, even if it's a bit sticky about letting viewers get inside the characters' heads.

For example, the five phobias are not explained, but it's possible to guess that "Robophobia" is the fear or robots or artificial intelligence, "Vehophobia" is the fear of driving, "Ephebiphobia" is the fear of teenagers, "Hoplophobia" is the fear of firearms, and "Atelophobia" is the fear of imperfection.

The five filmmakers are comprised of three women — one is the actor Camilla Belle, making her writing and directing debut — and two people of color. They all employ smart construction, clever casting (the pop star Macy Gray gives a truly odd, lurching performance as the woman with Atelophobia), and fluid storytelling. Only the ending of Phobias seems a little off, and not quite up to the level of the rest of it.

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