Phobias are a safe go-to for horror films. Capitalizing on people’s irrational fears has worked for a lot of directors in the past, even though the concept has gone by the wayside in favour of other trends. As such, in the case of Rory Douglas Abel’s low-budget Phobia (formerly known as Alone), throwing in a ghost haunting mechanic seems like a smart way to go. The character is essentially trapped inside their own home, which is no longer considered a safe refuge. Sounds like a promising start, but what about the execution?
Jonathan (Michael Jefferson) is a man suffering from agoraphobia brought on by the death of his wife Jane in a car accident. A year on, and he still can’t bring himself to leave the house, forcing his therapist, Dr. Edmondson (Peter Gregus) to make house calls, and his friend Taylor (Andrew Ruth) to bring him groceries. Things aren’t made easier when Jonathan starts seeing visions of his dead wife, mixed with visions of another woman dressed in black (Sandra Palmeri). Things really start getting hairy when Taylor goes on a trip, and leaves him with Bree (Emma Dubery). Bree manages to get Jonathan to open up, but in doing so, causes his visions to become stronger and deadlier.
Having almost the entirety of a film shot within within one location is often a difficult thing to do, especially with very few characters. Of course, it works in the film’s budget, but that’s not why you’re watching the film. The one location not only creates the sense of isolation, restlessness and a sense of going crazy that Jonathan feels, but Abel is also able to impart those same feelings to the viewer. Honestly, the idea is pretty terrifying to not only fear what would happen if you leave your home, but also the fear of going stir-crazy and having no safe place to go. What makes it even better is that we’re not entirely sure if Jonathan’s sane, and if this is all inside his head.
As far as the acting goes, it’s a mix of amateur talents. Admittedly, Michael Jefferson has a lot on his plate to be carrying the film by himself, and he succeeds in being a sympathetic character, even if the delivery is kind of flat. The same can be said for Emma Dubery, who is also suspect with her delivery. Also, Debbie Rochon in a cameo? Bonus. In terms of the gore, there’s a some light blood with a couple of creepy makeup effects, but it’s just ‘meh’, which ultimately describes Phobia.
Despite what seems like the potential to be a good indie horror film, Phobia fails to capitalize on it’s opportunities. Despite the premise, the film just doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and instead just presents all of these elements and hardly does anything with them. The film just has the persons in his apparitions appear at random, with no reason for them popping up. Worse, the tension suffers because of this, and while it isn’t nonexistent, it does dip into the territory when you start thinking of doing the dishes instead. The last swerve is the cover for the film. While it harkens back to those cool 80s VHS covers, it’s all a lie: it has nothing to do with the film at all. It’s a bait and switch that many low-budget movies have gone in order to grab viewers’ attentions, and it’s really annoying when it does happen.
Phobia is not a bad film. It’s not a great film, mind you, but it falls somewhere in the middle of the road. There were some good ingredients for a spooky haunted house/psychological horror film, but Phobia just goes through the motions that we’ve all seen before and from which we’ve all moved on. It’s a fire-and-forget type of film out of which you’ll get some enjoyment, but you won’t be wanting to watch it again.
Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, the image looks good for a film of this budget. Details are adequate, with the overall colour palette being subdued and not overly bright (a directorial decision). Black levels aren’t as strong, and as a result, details in the lower-lit scenes tend to be swallowed by the background.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is again pretty standard, although there were some instances of the actors’ dialogue not coming through as clear as it did in a previous shot. Surrounds do an adequate job for certain ambient effects and offscreen characters.
First up is an Audio Commentary with Producer Elias Ganster and Director Rory Abel. The duo’s friendship certainly comes through with an energetic track, covering things like the origins of the project, never actually meeting the co-writer of the film, Matthew Barnes (he lives in New Zealand), reshooting specific scenes, how to make your dick bigger when it comes to nude scenes (yeah, I don’t know, either), and other production-related tidbits that make the commentary far more interesting than the actual feature.
Following that is a collection of Deleted Scenes. Nothing too exciting, unless you like watching Emma Dubery’s character making the cliched faux pas of “mistaking ‘x’ for ‘y’ when ‘x’ was dead” routine.
Rounding things out is a gallery of Concept Art, including sketches of effects and photos of the actors and actresses overlaid with sketched-out concepts of their effects makeup with notes.
There’s also a slipcover included that replicates the cover art, with a few embossed areas.