“Phobias” (now available on VOD) is the latest in a long line of horror anthologies. As is wont for these sorts of movies the wraparound is fairly lame, but some of the stories shine individually.
“Phobias” is comprised of five tales and a sixth that ties them all together. They are written and directed by Joe Sill (“Robophobia”), Jess Varley (“Outpost 37,” which is the wraparound, and “Atelephobia”), Maritte Go (“Vehophobia”), actress Camilla Belle (“Hoplophobia”) and Chris von Hoffman (“Ephebiphobia”).
“Robophobia” concerns a programmer named Johnny (Leonardo Nam) who’s bullied by local toughs led by Dirk (Micah Hauptman) for being Asian, which makes for a rough watch given recent happenings. Johnny’s a good guy who’s taking care of his ailing father Jung-Soo (Steve Park, who you may remember from “In Living Color” or as Mike Yanagita in “Fargo”). An artificial intelligence entity intervenes on Johnny’s behalf to handle his attackers as well as abusive neighbor Mr. Romero (Gerardo de Pablos). The AI’s desire to alleviate Jung-Soo’s pain and Johnny’s responsibility with a permanent solution proves to be a bridge too far.
The AI’s actions land Johnny in Outpost 37, a government facility where Dr. Wright (Ross Partridge) is harnessing the fears of his prisoners in order to unleash them on society to keep the populace in check. It’s here that Johnny meets fellow inmates Sami (Hana Mae Li of the “Pitch Perfect” pictures), Alma (Martina García), Emma (Lauren Miller Rogen – writer, producer and star of “For a Good Time, Call…” and wife of Seth) and Renee (R&B songstress Macy Gray) – each of these ladies star in the remaining stories where we learn the basis of their fears.
The strongest and scariest segment is von Hoffman’s “Ephebiphobia,” in which Miller Rogen’s Emma is a middle school teacher attacked by an angry trio of teenagers led by Blaire (Mackenzie Brooke Smith). I’m a fan of von Hoffman’s 2018 feature “Monster Party,” which is currently available to stream on Shudder. He brings his formidable home invasion horror bonafides to this story. The proceedings are elevated by the convincing fashion in which Miller Rogen plays fear and Smith plays psychosis. I dug the segment enough where I kinda wish it was fleshed out more to become its own standalone film. Additionally, I look forward to von Hoffman’s next full-length effort … whatever it may be.
“Phobias” is executive produced by Gray and the filmmaking collective Radio Silence comprised of Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are old hands at these horror anthologies between “V/H/S” and “Southbound.” There’s a good deal to dig about “Phobias” – it has the coolest opening credits I’ve seen in a hot minute and even segments I didn’t love have commendable elements (Belle’s “Hoplophobia” has an incredibly assured apartment raid for a first-time filmmaker working with a low budget; Varley’s “Atelephobia” has real deal instances of body horror). I mostly just wish the connective tissue was cooler or that I was rewatching Radio Silence’s “Ready or Not” or peeping their “Scream” (2022) for the first time. Anthologies are aight. Features are more fun.