Tyler Cole and Aaron Burt’s Philophobia: or the Fear of Falling in Love works best when it leans into the surreal and disorienting. Burt plays Damien, “#58 on the Podcast Charts,” a young man living in Los Angeles making his living with an interview podcast. Damien’s buddy Alan (David Lengel) arrives for a visit just after his long-term fling, Danielle (Emily Pearse), confesses her love for him but also gives him an ultimatum on committing to their relationship. So what should’ve been a buddy weekend for Damien turns into a struggle to decide the future he wants for himself. Sometimes that means long heart-to-heart conversations with Alan, awkward flings with girls from bars or, when Philophobia is at its best, surprisingly scary bits.
The story is fairly standard for a movie about a relatively well-off guy trying to figure out how to commit to a woman. Moving on from being a single-something and into adult responsibilities is a staple of independent cinema. So the horror elements are a welcome departure. The first shock-moment, in particular, made me jump out of my seat. A few other reviews have branded the CGI and makeup amateurish, but the fact is, the entire movie is an amateur production. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that, especially when you can feel the energy behind each scare and moment.
Unfortunately the other sequences in the film don’t come across quite as well as the horror elements. Damien’s just not a particularly sympathetic character as he struggles with whether to value the woman who loves him. It’s hard to tell whether this is a constraint of the film’s creation; productions on this scale are acts of struggle, and the edit often leaves little room for adding in the kind of smaller character beats that might have made him feel more interesting. The performances are uniformly good, but there’s nonetheless something lacking.
As far as shoestring-independent horror-comedy goes, Philophobia is the sort of feature that will serve as a really strong example of what Cole, Burt and company are able to accomplish with next to no resources as they move forward into future releases. It’s not quite cohesive as an engaging experience outside of the horror bits. Impressive as a product, lacking as a story, kind of a quintessential first picture. The kinks come with the territory.
Although the movie is about fearing love, it’s clear that Philophobia is a labor of it.