EVIL Exploits Your Fears in “Phobic” reviewed! (Samuel Goldwyn Films / Digital Screener)

The most vulnerable are being chained to chairs and tortured by the terrifying weight of their own extreme phobias until their bodies can no longer take the stress, fatally collapsing where they sit due to heart failure.  Homicide detective Riley Sanders notices frightening similarities to her own abduction months earlier where the kidnapper tortures the stunned detective with an intense light on repeater.   Refusing to believe her abduction and the case she’s investigating are linked, her partner, Paul Carr, continues to insist that her traumatic experience might be key to solving the homicides and finding the killer.  As the detectives dig deeper into a radical psychiatrist’s phobia program whose patients are showing up the killer’s victim list, they find themselves at the center of a disturbing experiment that aims unleash an inner, and only ever theorized, phenomenal ability.

Bryce Clark’s psychological cop thriller, “Phobic,” tales an irregular and irrational serial killer objective derivative of David Fincher’s “Seven” twisted quietly with elements from the superhero universe. Darkly toned exploitation of forcing the worst of the worst fears upon the those already cripple down by their distinct aversion, the 2017 shot “Phobic” marks the return of a Clark written and directed full length feature since the filmmaker’s 2012 debut in both categories with a romantic-comedy starring Mischa Barton.  Both polar opposite films were shot on location in Salt Lake City, Utah, Clark’s residential city, surrounded by picturesque ice capped mountains overlooking the illuminated, pedestrian-saturated metropolitan area home to the story’s wicked psychotronic experiment that literally frightens people to death.  “Phobic’ is a production of Storylab and Pale Moon Entertainment.

Two detectives continue to peel back the arcane layers of the unusual case before them with detective Riley Sanders at the heart of the matter being linked to the recent string of methodical abductions tailored specifically with the victim.  “Looking Glass” actress Jacque Gray dichotomizes Riley not only as a persistent investigator eager to bring this case to an end but also as a struggling closeted neurotic with her own fears that bleed through the celluloid.  Clark makes sure to underscore Riley’s nightly routine before going to bed with her constantly turning on and off lights in her path to represent a lingering but indeterminate phobia response.  Riley is supposed to be this tough, but law abiding cop, who survived a harrowing ordeal, but Gray hardly expresses Riley’s scarred rigid soul, representing more so in the lines of coloring her disposition by the numbers that refuse to waiver outside normalcy.  Devin Liljenquist is even more so vanilla as Riley’s partner, Paul.  As his introductory feature film, Liljenquist’s doesn’t carry the range of a cop who cares, topping out with a straight-faced sleepwalk that challenges the stakes and can be considerably creepy, like subtly sexual grooming predator, when Paul is trying to convince Riley to open her fears with him.  The character audiences deserved, or better suited as Riley’s partner to provide contrast, would have been the third scarcely screened detective on the case that occasionally popped in as the first investigator on scene of a crime in Alex Nibley’s Detective Hank Ferry.  The slightly elder detective, complete with Nibley’s stark white, Anderson Cooper hairstyle, had a quick, dark wit and cavalier presence about him that breached the Riley and Paul uncharismatic stiffness with a relieving change of pace dynamics between colleagues.  You couldn’t wait to see Detective Ferry to make a reappearance, but sadly, his character is sorely underutilized for only a couple of moments.  “Phobic’s” in-and-out supporting cast includes James Jamison, Tiffani DiGregorio, Fred Spencer, and Ernie Lively as Riley Sanders secret-keeping father.

“Phobic” follows a basic detective thriller in tracking down a homicidal maniac with a niche kill tactic that bread crumbs one of the investigating officers into being subverted by a conflict of interest stemmed from her past. However, out of Salt Lake City’s blue skies, Clark suddenly pivots in his script, diverting from a dark, gritty Finchian narrative to an acutely forged new shape of revival and hope, a shape that bares no cape, no mask, or no bald, psychic power yielding man bound to a wheelchair playing headmaster of a school that serves as a façade for an elite team of powerful, do good mutants. If my hint wasn’t overly blunt, let me be utterly clear, “Phobic” has no distinct x-factor but goes from fears to fight with the psychotronic theory where energy and strength derive from stress and fear over the witnessing the impending doom of a loved one. Urban legend surrounding the notion of hysterical strength siphons away the psychosomatic element from the grooves of the cop thriller and Clark copiously throws in crucial red herrings to keep viewers muddling and not Professor X cerebral filling in the gaps unraveling an unlikely and unrealistic prospect of superhuman truth, but “Phobic’s” off-the-cuff pivot is a quick to squander all that’s been built in what’s essentially Bryce Clark’s house of cards to discombobulate an audience with polarizing story principles, rebranding an assayed horror-thriller into rabid conceit.

 

Easily one of the most idiosyncratic and unanticipated films of 2020, “Phobic” induced fear into audiences panic-stricken hearts this past December 15th onto multiple digital platforms courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, the distributor that brought you “Daniel Isn’t Real” and “Pet.” Brandon Christensen’s tenebrous cinematography is shot on a 6k red epic dragon with ultra definition displaying full range of details in every scene and despite the somber tones created by a slew of gaffer up lighting, we get some really rich natural coloring, even in the baby blue eyes of Ernie Lively, when Christensen isn’t blue or red tinting the lens to underscore the killer’s aftermath crime scene. While the cinematography is good, the editing can be pestilent expression of style to represent Riley’s sporadic and continuous reliving of a reoccurring memory. The stock score is just that set on autoplay for nearly the length of the 81 minute runtime with engineered eruptions in the pitch to denote the jump scares. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The bland acting hurts “Phobic’s” exploration of the psychological symbiotic energies between that of the mind and body, but the film boils down to have a fascinating perspective on the detective thriller by reshaping the surface with bold expectations of an uncharacteristic, dormant fear free all.

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Father and Son Bring EVIL Down Upon a Tormented Detective in “Darkness Falls” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)


Los Angeles detective Jeff Anderson has his perfect world turned upside down upon discovering his beloved wife dead of suicide in their apartment bathtub. Losing his bid for Captain and having his life be in utter shambles, Anderson becomes obsessed with lurking around incoming suicide calls on the CB radio, trying to make sense of his wife’s sudden reasoning to end it all. When a similar case produces a survivor from a familiar fate as his wife’s, Anderson learns two men are behind similar forged suicides stretched out over the past ten years against prominent women figures in and around the L.A. area. The detective spins a wild theory that has him following every lead to track down and stop the father and son serial killers without any backup from his local precinct, forcing his hand to choose whether to be a cop and uphold the law or seek lethal retribution for the woman he loved.

From French director Julien Seri comes “Darkness Falls,” a crime thriller released in 2020 that is entirely shot in English, a first for the French filmmaker who helms a script from the executive producer on “Starry Eyes” and “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot,” the Belgium native, Giles Daoust. Also produced by the Belgium, the film, that was formerly titled “Anderson Falls,” gorges on the detective exemplar of the prodigal crime fighter stripped down to next to nothing before regaining footing against the two experienced serial killers out to reduce the highly professional woman population with one bottle full of sleeping bills and one razorblade at a time. “Darkness Falls” is an exaggerated piece of nurture versus nature on systemic toxic masculinity seething under the guise of one man’s oppressed childhood from the abusive women in his life and then enlightening his son to his ways while the open minded, Renaissance man climbs back up the mountain toward redemption, not only for himself or his wife, but for all women being forced in a dual parental role. “Darkness Falls” is released under the production companies Koji Productions, Lone Suspect, and Giles Daoust’s Title Media.

Despite the international production and filmmakers, the solid cast is compromised of familiar faces from respectable actors, starting with not-the-Elsa-“Frozen’s” Shawn Ashmore. Ashmore, who I considered to a steady part of any project – he’s phenomenal in Fox’s “The Following” with co-star Kevin Bacon, – finds himself in the shoes of a L.A. detective who has fallen by no cause of his own, but as consumed as detective Jeff Anderson is with proving his wife’s murder, Ashmore doesn’t sell Anderson’s convictions and doesn’t properly apply Anderson’s super sleuth talents to wade through the sea of angst and torment. Anderson’s also written poorly as a man who consistently lingers around suicide call-ins and has constantly has numerous visions and memories of his wife that serve little to her importance to him, serving more toward just being story fillers instead of providing a little more value to Anderson’s character. What attracted me more to “Darkness Falls” was Gary Cole as one-half of the father-and-son serial killer team. Cole takes a break from the Mike Judge and Seth McFarland humor to stretch his legs amongst the thriller genre, playing an unnamed dark toned character derived from hate, abuse, and the thrill of seeing women die. Cole’s performance is a step above Ashmore’s lead role, but still flat, flat to the point of almost monotonic pointlessness that doesn’t exalt his need to kill high profile women. “Darkness Falls” rounds out the cast with Danielle Alonso (“The Hills Have Eyes 2”) as a Anderson’s former partner turned police captain, Richard Harmon (“Grave Encounters 2”) as Gary Cole’s accomplice son, and the legendary Lin Shaye (“Insidious”) as Anderson’s mother.

While “Darkness Falls” conveys a strong, if unintentional, message that grossly sheds light on the overstepping male view toward the idea of a successful woman, director Julien Seri missteps multiple times through the dramatics of a cop on the edge of the law and on the brink of despair while also not completely rigging out Gary Cole and Richard Harmon with more conniving wit, especially when their kindred reign of terror is well versed throughout the years. What fleshes out from Ashmore’s rolling on the floor and spitting shade performance at pictures of women on his crime wall trying to get into the head of the killers and Cole’s character who relinquishes freedom in sacrifice, even after a daring great escape from a botched crime scene that involved killing two cops in the process, is this weirdly uncharismatic collapse of a story from within the parameters of a well-established cast and premise. “Darkness Falls” barely pulls out a believable crime thriller that can only be described as vanilla, a term that stakes the heart terribly knowing that Shawn Ashmore and Gary Cole deserve so much better just from their lustrous careers and polar acting styles that don’t counterbalance the dynamics at all in this film. The original title, “Anderson Falls,” is fresher salt than the stale, rehashed title change of “Darkness Falls” to, perhaps, gain traction in a fruitless action of selling more tickets, adding even more vanilla flavor.

Releasing on VOD and Digital this month is “Darkness Falls,” an unrated release, courtesy of Vertical Entertainment. Streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, FandangoNow will carry Shawn Ashmore’s 84 minute sordid themed detective thriller as well as all major cable and satellite companies. Since this is a digital screener, the audio and video aspects will not be reviewed, but if running on digital and VOD, the presentation should be excellent provided that your internet’s not sluggish and a good connection is established. I will say that the score by Sacha Chaban is against the grain with a brawny anti-brooding soundtrack more suitable for intense action than stylish poignancy than ends in uninspired ca’canny. That’s also not to say it wasn’t a good score. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener and no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Sitting through “Darkness Falls” was tough to sit through as the anticipation for the morbidity level to increase with due pressure onto detective’s Anderson’s browbeaten shoulders for a hellish ride solving his wife’s untimely death was never sated, sputtering along as a halfcocked story with performances to match.

“Darkness Falls” available for rent on Prime Video!