By: Jolie Featherstone
When second-generation homicide detective Riley Sanders (Jacque Gray) returns to work after a traumatic experience, she’s partnered with the idealistic and stoic Paul Carr (Devin Liljenquist). When Paul brings Riley up to speed on current cases, they realize that two of the crimes are very similar: the victims were bound in enclosed spaces and died of heart attacks. Their investigation leads them to find that the killer is targeting people with clinically-diagnosed phobias. As Sanders and Carr dive deeper into the mysterious series of murders, they plunge closer and closer to danger. They soon find that there may be a twisted motive to the killer’s actions – a motive that may be connected to Riley’s past.
Phobic’s premise is reminiscent of David Fincher’s Se7ven – a highly inventive killer with a methodical approach to targeting and torturing their prey eludes two dedicated police officers. However, as the story unfolds, there are hints of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s ethereal Netflix series The OA. Both leads bring committed performances to this eerie thriller.
The film struggles at times with its tone and objective. It moves between playing it straight as a cop procedural, then leans into the psychological thriller aspect, and there are a few moments where it, intentionally, edges into the vicinity of campy horror. These atmospheres, rather than blending together, exist quite separately which can distract from the emotional tension of the film. The final third of Phobic contains a lot of information that shifts the film’s centre of gravity significantly. The film would have benefitted from mapping out and releasing the information little by little throughout. That said, the ending raises intriguing ideas. Indeed, I can’t help but think that this film would be an excellent start to a graphic novel series.
Phobic raises interesting questions and features characters with whom we empathize. However, it struggles with structure and atmosphere which wanes the emotional tension at times. I am interested to see where writer/director Bryce Clarke would take this story if given more screen time to run with the film’s concept.
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