Phobias follows a man who encounters an entity that travels through electronics. After the encounter, he wakes up in a secret lab that is forcibly performing experiments on people by exposing them to their phobias in order to turn the byproduct of their fears into a weapon.
Let's face it...Anthologies are a different breed, and in general just can't be evaluated like other films. Part of our perspective on reviews is that horror movies can and often should be evaluated differently from "traditional" films, and while some horror films can be considered objectively great in the world of cinema, some of the best in the genre aren't necessarily award-deserving masterpieces. A layer deeper, horror anthologies usually can't be evaluated like other horror films. Sure, some anthologies are objectively good horror films, but most are just a different beast altogether. There are different elements to critique:
How is the interlocking story?
Are all the segments well-executed?
Is the goal to be funny or scary, and did it succeed in its goal?
Is there a place to evaluate writing or was this essentially a collage of a variety of shorts?
Should the stories be evaluated as a whole or each individually?
Often I rate an anthology by the quantity of quality shorts (and a quality interlocking story is icing on top). In other words, how many of the shorts were good? Rarely, if ever, will each short score on all fronts. There are simply too many variables, most pertinent of which is that almost all anthologies feature different directors for each short, and also sometimes these directors are shoehorned into plots that put them in a bad spot (think: ABC's of Death). On top of all this, it's only worth evaluating an anthology's interlocking story if effort was bothered to be put into it. Phobias chose to put quite a bit of effort into its interlocking story, so much of my review of it comes from that perspective beyond just the short stories themselves:
What is otherwise a creative interlocking story for an anthology is wasted on a lack of fusing the pieces together and making everything sensible and cohesive. A practice often used in other anthologies, the film attempted to create a twist from its initial short story in order to throw one last bit into the climax, but in this case it is clumsily executed and dilutes the otherwise interesting setting. I loved the idea of an anthology operating out of a phobia-inducing lab, but I personally felt the strands at the beginning and end could have been tightened up more to make the interlocking story more valuable and stand on its own.
The short stories themselves were a mixed bag. In general I found the directing and acting to be between above average and fantastic. The acting of Leonardo Nam in Robophobia is top-notch and the directing by Camilla Belle in Hoplophobia reminds me of the great work of Leigh Whannell (Upgrade, The Invisible Man). Where I feel Phobias' stories fall short is in the quality of the fear and tension. In general, there is something missing with the pacing and impact of almost all of them. Several of them drag, which is a rather disappointing critique in short films, and the phobias chosen, while courageous in their challenging nature, are often too obscure to execute in a truly impactful way. There was just something missing to fully engage me in most of the stories.
The lab, while a great idea in concept, is executed haphazardly. Almost all of the segments are heavily character driven, like dark dramas for much of their respective runtimes, and are thereby dependent on powerful performances, of which they receive. But then the interlocking secret lab setting is run by a seemingly purposefully caricature-like evil scientist, creating an environment that feels out of place with the shorts and a little disrespectful to the quality therein. Something was missing to make it all come together perfectly. The shorts were too drab and somber to drive a high entertainment value, but the clumsy execution of the interlocking story hurt the structure the shorts had built.
While I would consider Phobias a solid outing in horror anthology, I wouldn't consider it better than either of the top two contenders from last year (Dark Stories, The Mortuary Collection). While they set out to achieve a lighter atmosphere, which is generally an easier path to take in the anthology realm, they also more successfully executed on the entertainment and recommendation elements.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 9/10
Horror Quality: 5/10
Film Quality: 4/10