Saturday, 10 January 2015

RAW REVIEW: PHOBIA

Expect a fair slew of reviews over the next couple of weeks while I desperately try to clear the review backlog that accrued over Christmas.
I never thought this blog would prove so popular that I’d have to tell filmmakers they need to wait for me to watch their horror movies, but that’s where we are now!
Of course, what this means is that, my much beloved readers, will be getting all kinds of wonderful heads-ups at regular intervals. You lucky people, you!
First up is Phobia. A psychological thriller, also known under the title Alone, this is a film that has drawn mixed reviews, some positively glowing, others harshly damning. So which way will The House lean? Read on…

PHOBIA A.K.A. ALONE (2013)



Dir: Rory Douglas Abel
Starring: Michael Jefferson, Emma Dubery, Sarah Schoofs, Peter Gregus, Andrew Ruth, Debbie Rochon, Sandra Palmeri, Jason Grimste

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.

After a tragic car accident that caused the death of his fiancĂ©e Jane (Schoofs), Jonathan MacKinlay (Jefferson) has found himself crippled by agoraphobia and is now rendered unable to leave the confines of his home. His social interaction limited to visits from his psychiatrist Dr Edmundson (Gregus), his closest friend Taylor (Ruth) and food services, Jonathan is barely coping, working from home and taking care of himself, albeit in isolation.
Things seem to take an upturn when he meets Bree (Dubery), a lovely young lady who regularly delivers his food and it seems that romance is starting to blossom.
However, Jonathan finds himself increasingly haunted by nightmarish visions and hallucinations. Is he losing his grip on reality… or are these apparitions real?


BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): There’s a lot to praise in Phobia.
First I want to say how great a job it does of keeping you off balance. The film is shown entirely through the eyes of a disturbed protagonist and it becomes increasingly tricky to distinguish between the real and imagined. Right up until the final scenes Abel keeps his audience guessing as to what is truly going on, even leaving us with an ending that is very much open to interpretation.
The main themes of the film, especially the isolation of guilt, are tangible throughout. This is a psychological horror in the truest sense of the word. It reminded me a lot of Gregory Blair’s Deadly Revisions with its isolated and damaged lead, reliant on a doctor and single close friend as he attempts to recover from a serious trauma. However, while Deadly Revisions had a retro quality to it, Phobia is very much a modern thriller. It is darker, certainly more frightening, and manages to mix its weighty subject matter with some genuinely unsettling scares.
Jonathan’s isolation and agoraphobia are palpable. This is due to two key factors: first, the wonderful cinematography. The single setting of the house is used marvellously to convey a claustrophobic atmosphere. The use of lighting is especially clever, the darkened interior of the house is almost womb-like, while the few glimpses we get of the world outside are dazzling, a positive explosion of blinding light, forcing the audience to wince and squint along with the terrified Jonathan.
Of course, this darkened interior more than lends itself to some show-stopping creepy moments and Phobia definitely delivers. There are some standout horror-scenes involving the bloody (and often undressed) apparition of Jane and the always petrifying black-clad shade portrayed by Palmeri.
The second manner through which Jonathan’s plight is brought to life is in a rock-solid performance by Jefferson. He absolutely nails it. I was unfamiliar with Jefferson’s work before this, but now I’ll definitely keep an eye out for him. He is able to remain a sympathetic but erratic presence, his earnest fear and horror at what could very well be entirely imaginary threats draw you onside and you can’t help but feel sadness at some of the soul-destroying twists the story takes with him. As an aside, Jefferson sounds EXACTLY like Josh Hartnett. Seriously, it’s uncanny!
But Jefferson isn’t the only member of the cast to acquit themselves admirably — their are top drawer performances across the board. As well as the aforementioned Schoofs and Palmeri, I really dug the likeable Ruth’s laid-back and natural turn as Taylor and Dubery’s sweet and accomplished performance as Bree. She’s undoubtedly a very attractive girl and she has the acting chops that ensure she'll undoubtedly go a long way. Combine this with a strong (albeit all too brief) cameo from the always wonderful Debbie Rochon and you’ve got a real selling-point. I offer my heartiest congratulations and respect to the entire cast.
But it isn’t just the cast that hit the spot — Abel’s direction is a revelation. Excellently shot scenes and an exemplary slow-burn pace are just two of the tricks used under his assured guidance. This may be a low-budget flick, but Abel makes it look, and feel, like a significantly bigger production. Astounding.


WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Phobia is a very, very good film, but it isn’t perfect. While I praised the writing of the story earlier, I did feel that some of the dialogue was a little awkward at times. During the earlier scenes there were a couple of clunky expository moments that really could have done with a little more polishing. It was rather galling, especially as the obviously very strong actors seemed to struggle with delivering these lines.
Luckily there are only a few and they seem to disappear pretty early on.
Also, while I praised Dubery earlier, I felt the writing of Bree’s burgeoning relationship with Jonathan came across as a little rushed. While he’s a sympathetic character, he seemed just a little too, well, odd and after a couple of awkward meetings there didn’t really seem to be enough between the two to warrant the sudden escalation of feelings between them. The film has a pretty succinct running time, clocking in at a lean mean 84 minutes, and I think it could probably have used an extra five minutes or so to give us a little more time with the pair.
Finally, some people may find themselves a little put off by the somewhat open ending. I’d strongly disagree with this — a film like Phobia is one that works precisely because you have to engage your brain to truly appreciate it. The ending was one that I loved, it went to a place that I didn’t see coming, yet it never betrayed its own internal logic and offered plenty of hints along the way.  



VERDICT: While it may have been a more low-budget effort, Phobia is a fantastic psychological chiller that offers tonnes of atmosphere, great scares, compelling performances and an excellent plot chock full of twists and turns. Abel is a director I shall watch out for with great interest and now my anticipation for the production company’s sister movie, Gut, is pretty damn high. Stay tuned for that review in the days ahead. Returning to Phobia, I definitely recommend the film, which is available on DVD or VOD right now, so go for it!

In the meantime, check out its official Facebook page and take the time to Like it while you’re there to help spread the word. Stop dilly-dallying and get to it, people!


If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter (@HickeysHorrors). It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to!
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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