Studio: Osiris Entertainment
Director: Jon Keeyes
Writer: Anne L. Gibson
Producer: Blake Calhoun
Stars: Erica Leerhsen, Chase Ryan Jeffery, Matthew Tompkins, Jonathan Brooks, Carolyn Wickwire, Stephanie Rhodes
Believing that he is afflicted by a family curse, a man seeks the help of a 19th century doctor who treats his notion of vampirism as an affliction of the mind.
It is a bold move for an independent feature filmed in Texas with a low budget to tackle a period piece that takes place in another country and features dialogue in both French and English. Bold, although not entirely effective. The bravery of “Phobia” to go big on its ideas has an uphill battle staying within the confines of its restricted budget and limited production resources.
“Phobia” bears the made-for-TV aroma of a movie that would fit nicely as the lead-in to a Craigslist killer dramatization on syndicated basic cable. Not entirely a horror film per se, “Phobia” is more of a romance and psychological drama that also includes a possible vampire in its plotline.
After the harrowing stabbing deaths of her parents inspire a lifelong fear of the dark, Lesley Parker becomes a psychiatrist in order to help those like herself overcome their phobias. Disguising herself in a Fab Four moptop that would not even fool Ray Charles, Lesley travels to Paris in 1885 where she learns the hypnosis therapy techniques of Dr. Charcot in an all-male classroom alongside fellow student Sigmund Freud. Dr. Freud has recently emerged from the same Makeup Department as Dr. Parker by donning a fake beard that also came from the discount aisle at Spencer’s Gifts.
Charcot and Freud introduce Lesley to Val Drakul. A descendent of Vlad Tepes, Val is convinced that his blackouts and a rash of bloody local slayings indicate that he has fallen victim to the family curse. Intent on proving that Val’s suspicions of vampirism are merely psychosomatic, Lesley brings Val back to California with her for treatment. With Val enrolled in Lesley’s group therapy for phobia-afflicted minds, the treatment sessions melt into a Victorian era whodunit when slashed necks make the jump across the pond along with doctor and patient.
Paced like a pendulum that swings slowly but surely, “Phobia” packs so many loosely related distractions into its runtime that the core storyline is lost like a needle in a haystack. Equal parts romance, gothic intrigue, psychobabble, and investigative procedural clash together for a movie that tries, but struggles, to be something more substantial that a murder mystery dinner party recreation or live action version of the board game Clue.
“Phobia” has as much working against it as it does working for it. The already mentioned fake beard on Matt Moore’s Sigmund Freud is laugh out loud embarrassing for the Makeup Department. Ditto on Erica Leerhsen’s disguise for passing herself off as male. Putting a Moe Howard wig over her feminine features is about as convincing as Superman wearing glasses and passing himself off as Clark Kent.
However, the costuming is outstanding given the scope of the production. The period garb and gowns make up for a lot of the ground lost by confined sets that have a hard time standing in for Paris streets, lecture halls, and cafés. In the big picture, there are enough hits and misses to balance out for a passable setting that is not believably realistic, but it does enough to be acceptable for this scale of film.
The script, the acting, and the characterizations can be lumped into that same mixed bag. The story wanders in so many directions that it dizzies itself by spinning too many plates at once. The heartbeat of the plot involves the doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Parker and Val Drakul. It aims to be a passionate love affair, except it begins so abruptly that chemistry never has a moment to develop between the two players.
Standing in the way of the focus on the lovers is a too full roster of other patients also treated by Dr. Parker. In total, seven more men and women join Val for Lesley’s group therapy sessions. Some personalities are more important to the plot than others, but everyone has a full backstory whether it goes anywhere or not. Multiply those moments with various scenes of heads talking theory about neuroses and psychiatric treatment, and “Phobia” meanders into unnecessary exposition territory that subtracts more than it adds to the overall narrative.
By wearing too many hats, “Phobia” underwhelms as a romance, as a thriller, and as a satisfying movie in general. The screenplay loses track of its purpose with convoluted subplots left unresolved and unimportant. Inconsistent production design lends the look of a community theater stage play that detracts from the serious tone. And talented actors deliver performances that might have improved with an occasional second take, but settle for being uneven.
“Phobia” puts its best foot forward to create mood on a shoestring. Sometimes, it is too much, such as the flickering candlelight and flashing lightning that is laid on thicker than London fog. But for those other times, those good intentions are not enough to save the film from categorization as average.
Review Score: 50