Reviews

Phobia: a nerve-wracking ride

Phobia makes for a nerve-wracking ride. It sucks you into the world of artiste Mehak (Radhika Apte) who suffers from an anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, following a sexual assault by a cab driver. The disorder is to do with fear unfamiliar spaces and can immobilise a person to an extent that they’d not even step out of their own home. Even as her sister debates if Mehak needs institutional care her close friend Shaan (Satyadeep Mishra) relocates her to a friend’s strange, artistically run down house. It is peopled by a black cat, the ghost of a dead woman and apparitions and spirits rising up from a bath tub. Then there are many whispers and voices rising up from the drainpipe. If that wasn’t enough there’s a weird neighbour Manu (Ankur Vikal) who is seeking laughter therapy to rid himself of his own anxieties and a kooky lady searching for a non-existent husband.

In a nutshell all the usual claptraps of a horror film. No wonder you begin to question things rather rationally--why did the friend shift her to the strange house (don’t most families in horror films do this out of sheer necessity of plot?) or why leave her all alone when she has a history of illness (another convenient contrivance of the plot). Why this wilful courting of trouble? All to take the story and chills and thrills forward? But then in Phobia nothing might quite be what it seems. The film uses the handy tools and devices of scary movies and turns them on the head in the smart twist of a climax. Of course the finale leaves many questions unanswered, leaves things unexplained and can make many in the audience feel utterly befuddled. A close reading of the script might even reveal many a sloppy plothole but the overriding feeling of fear is so consistently maintained that you forget everything else. Phobia is relentlessly scary. It’s as though you are living within the mind of Mehak, her unending claustrophobia and suffocation become your own. There is just one small window of comic relief in the film—a séance scene, a desperate attempt to call the spirits and talk to the dead. And just when you relax and laugh through your jolts and shocks it again puts you back in the panic mode.

Much of the terror resides in Radhika Apte’s eyes. She is the film, all by herself, that too in just a single setting. The film draws on the essential horror from her. The performance is an external manifestation of the workings of her inner mind. And Radhika she is sensational as a woman living with her own demons—be it fighting with her sister or being flirtatious with friends, slurring on her speech or travelling miles (metaphorically) to leave garbage bag just outside her house. Or just being radiantly vulnerable. In her we get a radically inventive scream queen. All hail her!

Director: Pawan Kripalani

Starring: Radhika Apte, Satyadeep Mishra, Ankur Vikal

Run time: 1 hour 39 minutes

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 4:13:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/review-of-phobia-a-nervewrecking-ride/article8654941.ece

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