Director and writer Bryce Clark’s Phobic makes a competent first impression as a stylish horror movie, but discerning audiences know to look beneath the style to look for substance. Riley (Jacque Gray) is a homicide detective returning to duty despite surviving a night of brutal torture. Her first case, unsurprisingly enough, involves someone who dies from their phobias. She and her new partner Paul Carr (Devin Liljenquist) discover that the victim was a recent patient from a mental ward. The ward’s main doctor, Elizabeth Holden (Tiffany DiGregorio) curtly asks them what they’re doing there. She does this instead of being deferential to her visitors who are obviously cops investigating a murder.
Holden shows the same smugness when the detectives sit her down. In Holden’s defense, Riley and Paul don’t carry the authority that most or all detectives often have. They don’t even carry the authority of the beat cops on power trips. There’s a scene when they have dinner with Riley’s father, who might also have been a cop. And they talk about cases like they’ve never encountered ambiguous morality before. Even armchair sleuths are more frank about the fact that people are capable of killing each other. They talk about criminals as people with urges, which is common sense for people who have ridden a subway in a major city once.
Phobic almost fetishizes criminals’ psychology instead of know that criminals misuse that science. Both the cast and the production have roots in Christian movies. Apparently, working in Christian films dulls the senses when transitioning to the grit they need to evince in tackling crime movies. The movie makes me almost lose faith in local film productions. It doesn’t help that the characters talk about Bloody Mary or the Internet as if they’re new concepts. It also feels as if the movie harvests its tone and tropes from horror films that have hit theaters and festivals for the past 25 years.
Phobic relies heavily on flashbacks and on visuals that would make horror fans yawn. The first kind involves what actually happens to Riley and her abductor. This abductor, by the way, is the prime suspect for the murder she’s investigating. The second involves a thing that happened to Riley when she was a child that echoes the kidnapping. Spoilers – she traps herself in her childhood home’s basement and her father didn’t bother to look here. What kind of a parent doesn’t know to look within a close perimeter before going wide? The stupidity of the minor characters equals that of the major ones.
There’s a lifelessness to both Gray and Liljenquist even when they’re walking through dark crime scenes, which is one fourth of Phobic. The movie tries to add a synthesizer heavy score or lens flares on the cops’ flashlights to add mood or make it scary but they don’t fit here. It also doesn’t work if the actors don’t have the same fear in their eyes. They eyes are equally dead when their characters encounter Holden’s unconscious body. Sure, it’s understandable they must have encountered unconscious bodies before, but they should at least react to it. Both detectives also hesitate in shooting their suspects and yell at him with the same lifelessness that the movie deserves when viewers see it.
Phobic also adds a third act twist that doesn’t suspend disbelief. It comes out in Canada a month after coming out in America. I don’t know if this is an American act of mercy to wait for a month to bring their refuse overseas. Or maybe it’s more merciful not to release this instead.