(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/QUIET BOX PRODUCTIONS (84 minutes/Unrated); 2014)
I have an extremely high level of tolerance for creep; the new movie, PHOBIA, has creeped me out more than anything I’ve witnessed… and that includes the nearly four minutes of KEEPING UP WITH KARDASHIANS I accidentally saw when my remote’s “channel up” button wouldn’t “channel up.” Now, I have to live with the image of that Bruce Jenner chick every time I close my eyes! As disturbing as that was, the nightmare inducing images of Rory Douglas Abel’s directorial debut full-length film should easily over-ride that.
Agoraphobic Jonathan MacKinley (portrayed by a disturbingly believable Michael Jefferson) hasn’t stepped out of his house in over a year, since the death of his wife; he wanted to go to a party, she wanted to stay home; he drank and insisted that he was fine to drive home after the party. In his impaired state, he didn’t see the car that ran the red light and struck the passenger side of his vehicle (although, I suspect something more sinister… probably involving that ‘stache). Since that time, the only people that he’s had actual physical contact with have been his best friend, Taylor (Andrew Ruth), his therapist, Doctor Edmondson (Peter Gregus) and a grocery delivery person. Early in the story, Taylor phones MacKinley to let him know that he’s found a new delivery person, a young woman named Bree (Emma Dubery). MacKinley’s tenuous grasp on reality has been eroding quickly of late, as the solitude takes its toll via frightful dreams and macabre visions, blurring the line between his reality and his horrible fantasies. (On the surface, this whole scenario may seem highly improbable; however, I can say from family experience, that this is quite plausible: I had a cousin… a cousin that I never met. She suffered from agoraphobia and had locked herself in her home, pulling all of the blinds. The only people she would allow in was a sister and a daughter. The years of separation from the outside world had a negative effect on her mental health, including the belief that her life was in constant danger. The delusions were very real.) And, so, back to our regularly scheduled review…
MacKinley, fighting against his own sanity, opens up to Bree, allowing an intimacy that he hasn’t known since the death of Jane (Sarah Schoofs, who generally appears in all of her post-autopsy glory… uh… gore). As the visions and dreams become more frequent and more realistic, MacKinley places an emergency call to Doctor Edmondson, putting into motion a chain of events that, while expected, are, nonetheless, very disturbing. In a wonderfully twisted move, Abel (who is also co-writer, with Matthew Barnes) introduces enough elements to the story to open up the possibility that MacKinley’s psychoses may actually be the work of a malevolent entity (appearing in his waking nightmares as “the Shade,” played by Sandra Palmeri). That’s one of the theories that the individual viewer will have to accept or discard on their own.
The movie, like most indie flicks, is not without its problems, chief among them being the particularly stilted acting from Jefferson in the first few scenes of the story; of course, this could all be his take on the phobia and dementia that is overtaking his life. As that dementia progresses, Jefferson’s acting becomes more natural and… more manic. The fact that the majority of the story takes place within the confines of a cramped, dark brownstone only adds to the creepiness, allowing us to – in a fashion – experience MacKinley’s torturous life. Working in such a small area may not be most movie-makers’ ideal situation but, this tale would not have worked under any other circumstance. The set and the lighting is dark and claustrophobic, making the few moments of bright light (usually seen when Bree or Taylor enters the home) seem like searing shards of metal boring into your cerebral cortex. If PHOBIA had been Abel’s third or fourth film, these aspects would be considered outstanding film-making from an experienced hand; with it being his first, these choices point to a visionary of phenomenal potential in the horror/thriller genre. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he has planned for us next. Oh, yeah… for whatever reason, the package art has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Just sayin’.
Please be aware that PHOBIA features graphic scenes of violence and gore, as well as, nudity. This film is not for the weak of heart or for anyone younger than fifteen or so. It will definitely have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed for a day or two; but, then, that’s why we like it so much.