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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Phobia (2014)

I
I'm going to get this little matter off my chest straight away, so hopefully the director Rory Abel and the rest of the Phobia team will forgive me if I slightly digress for a moment (yeah, like THAT never happens, I her you mocking). The thing is that I love my American friends, I really do. However........can we please get one thing straight between us right now. The word Agoraphobia is actually correctly pronounced ' AG-RO-PHOBIA  - not blooming 'AGORAPHOBIA. Let me repeat....there is no syllable of OR, it may look that way, but it's NOT pronounced as such.......I'm sorry, I'm not usually a fully paid up member of the grammar or pronunciation police, but there you go. Some people fight for world peace, some for gender or sexual equality. Me, I fight for the correct pronunciation of a particular word. Yes, my life is total Rock & Roll. 

That little rant (once again, apologies for that) leads me nicely onto a request that I had a couple of weeks ago as to whether I would like to review a brand new horror feature, Phobia. This came about after my review of another independent horror feature for a mutual friend, the film was the very fine Gut. If you haven't read the review then go to the previous posts section on this blog and find it.......go on, I'll sit here and wait for you to come back once you've finished.....it's OK, I'm to doing anything else of interest or importance right now, is it?........

Still waiting........

You've read it? Excellent. I won't ask you just how much you enjoyed the review, I'll just take it for granted that you loved it. (Yes, the weather here on planet ME is wonderful, thank you very much). 

Anyhoo, film director, Rory Abel, intimated in an email to me that my review of Gut was reasonably acceptable in an OK sort of way and wondered if I would like him to send to me a copy of his yet unreleased film in order for me to do another average attempt at a review. Now as my regular reader will know, I'm anybodys for a free DVD so I happily agreed to the request. A week or so later a nice little package containing a preview disc arrived all the way from the U.S of A to here in not so sunny right now in Scotland. And now, after illness annoying got in the way, some weeks later I've finally been able to watch, and now muse just a little on the fine psychological horror film that is Phobia.
So let me give you a tasty little synopsis of the movie before I go any further...

"Oh shit....Er, Darling I think I've glued my head to the window.....again"
"Jonathan MacKinlay is a man trapped inside his home by his own mind. Suffering from agoraphobia, caused by a car accident that also took his wife's life, his existence has been reduced to a monotonous repetition of identical days. 

However, a home invasion shatters his safe haven and possibly his mind. Soon he finds that he might no longer be alone in the house. Something evil lurks in the darkness, preying on his fears and self-loathing. Is it real or just a figment of his imagination? He'll have to survive to find out."

Now remember, before I go any further - it's pronounced 'AG-RO-PHOBIA'.

From the outset Phobia rather confidently takes its time to gradually peel back the layers of the protagonists flailing psyche - and I like that. The term 'slow-burner' seems to have unfortunately become akin to something of a veiled mocking criticism regarding the pacing of certain contemporary indie-horror productions. I think that's a shame. So when I refer to this film as being a slow-burner it is meant as genuine compliment, because the pacing for the most part is lovingly detailed and patient, not only in the intelligent way it deals with the condition of Agoraphobia, but also in the way that the tension and chills are slowly increased as the plot progresses.

Michael Jefferson takes the method acting approach just
a little too far
Ahh, fab- another film that actually treats its audience with a modicum of intelligence by asking it to actually think about what is taking place on (and off) screen. All too often the so called 'hidden theme or concept' within the narrative treated with the dexterity and subtly of a sledgehammer to the face, instead of considering for a moment that some of us like a little ambiguity in a movie. For instance, the central theme of Jonathan's ever worsening phobic condition as the film progresses is skillfully handled both in front of, and behind the camera. So thankfully, it is never rammed home in ones face whether or not the increasingly violent visions and experiences that are affecting the lead character are simply a manifestation of his psychosis or whether the explanation is actually for more of a paranormal one. It's either that or maybe I'm just a bit thick and wasn't able to identify the clues either way. No doubt my regular reader will have already made up his/her mind about my intellectual attributes.

A film of where the the vast majority of the plot takes place in such a confining environment will naturally rest on on the central performances from the cast, a important factor which can occasionally be something of a problem for the occasional indie production. However, thankfully we don't have that particular problem in Phobia as the lead actor, Michael Jefferson is quite excellent as the psychologically or paranormal lay tortured Jonathan. He handles some of the more tricky emotional set pieces with a fair degree of assured confidence and skill and suitably conveys the appropriate levels of impending and increasing psychosis. That is, if it is actually psychosis.......

"Now I want you to sit at the bottom of the stairs
until you've thought about what you've done"
The equally important supporting roles again, unlike some indies, nicely compliment the central performance with Emma Duberry being suitably confident and convincing as the delivery woman, Bree, who befriends Jonathan. Again, the filmakers confidently take their time for us to witness their relationship beginning to show signs of evolving into something more of a romantic nature - that is, if the terrors that are affecting Jonathan will let that happen....

The convincing performances are brought to us in no small form by the assured direction of Rory Abel and the clever cinematography and lighting throughout which helps convey an ever increasing feeling of isolation and psychological suffocation.

It's not just the human contributions that nicely flesh out the story, because an extra dimension to the feel of the film is very nicely provided by another important character - the house itself. It's a brave move to keep the virtually the whole of the narrative taking place inside just one location, but it works. The house itself with it's maze-like labyrinth of small confining rooms nicely add a delicious layer of ever increasing claustrophobic and confusing element to Jonathan's psychological plight. As the tagline from the film poster says - " You can't escape what's already inside". That could be reference to Jonathan's mind, or maybe it refers to the house? I'll leave for you to make up your own mind.

Phobia is a very good film that could have been truly excellent if not for a couple of minor issues that affect (albeit only a little) the overall experience. For example, the objective of letting the characters and plot 'breathe and develop' occasionally becomes a trifle overdone with a couple of scenes which merely meander and occasionally virtually repeat themselves, so adding little extra to the plot or audience experience. In fact, he result of this is that for a short time two thirds of the way through the film almost loses itself and with it the audience - almost but not quite. In addition the normally excellent dialogue throughout occasionally seems a little cliched and forced in one or two of the scenes.  
I'm pretty sure that's not a letter opener......

However, these negative considerations are not enough to spoil what on the whole is a hugely enjoyable journey into the potential psychosis experienced by traumatic events - or maybe we are witnessing the journey of an individual into the Paranormal? I'll leave that up to you. Nevertheless we are left with a genuinely exciting and satisfying emotionally charged climax.

Highly recommended. However, if you don't believe me, then I can tell you that Phobia has been nominated fore a whole slew of festival nominations - in fact Matthew Barnes and Rory Abel,  won Best Screenplay for their script at the fabulously named Salty Horror International Film Festival only a few weeks ago. You could also check out the excellent trailer below.




AG-RO-PHOBIA..............

If you want to find out more about Phobia and its impending release in Novemeber, visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PhobiaMovie/timeline


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