Thursday, March 18, 2021

Phobias, Executive Produced by Radio Silence

Hoplophobia is an irrational fear of guns that afflicts far too many politicians. Ephebiphobia is the fear of teenagers, which is hard to ever dismiss as irrational. A good case of ephebiphobia ought to be enough to overcome anyone’s hoplophobia, but the sinister conspiracy in this braided anthology film is not seeking to cure anybody’s fears. Instead, they seek to weaponize fear in Phobias, executive produced by the Radio Silence filmmaking team, which releases tomorrow in theaters and on VOD.

Poor Johnny is the sole support of his ailing father in Joe Sill’s “Robophobia” (the fear of robots), but the bigoted lowlifes of his skid row neighborhood still pick on him mercilessly. Then one day, he is “befriended” by a rogue AI that downloads itself into his ear and starts to fight back for him. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to stop.

We next see Johnny after he has been whisked away to some kind of black-site research facility in Jess Varley’s interstitial “Outpost 37” segments. There he will meet some very damaged people, who have done some terrible things out of fear (and some whose fears were well justified).

Sami is one of them. She should have been more frightened of driving, before she committed vehicular violence in Maritte Lee Go’s “Vehophobia.” Granted, it is sort of quick riff on
Christine, but it is creepy, thanks to some clever use of music and sound. Hana Mae Lee (of the Pitch Perfect franchise) is also terrific as the EC Comics-style protag.

Chris von Hoffman’s student-teacher home invasion horror story, “Ephebiphobia” is probably the darkest and tensest of the fearful tales. Yet, in some ways, it really doesn’t fit with the rest. The unfortunate teacher has made some mistakes in her life, but she is victim, not the aggressor. She deserves to wind up in Outpost 37 even less than woeful Johnny.

The single-mother cop in Camille Belle’s “Hoplophobia” is not wholly unsympathetic either, but her guilt and paranoia have terrible consequences, especially for her. Frankly, there is nothing entertaining about this fearful tale. It is just sort of sad.

Varley’s “Atelophobia” (the fear of being imperfect) is a bit of a rebound, even though the what’s and how’s don’t make much sense. Macy Gray is spectacularly weird and unsettling as the sinister managing director of a boutique architectural firm and Varley’s execution is quite atmospheric. Frankly, this and “Vehophobia” are the two fears that really work.

Leonardo Lam is also quite good as Johnny, our through-line rooting interest, but
Phobias is wildly inconsistent, even by horror anthology standards. There is not enough payoff and what we do get, rather unsatisfyingly, comes one-size-fits-all. Without question, some of the fears, like “Vehophobia,” would work better as stand-alones than as part of the Phobias package. Ultimately not recommended, Phobias releases tomorrow (3/19) in theaters and via VOD platforms.