Phobia

  • 1988
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Thriller

A low-budget independent film from Australia, PHOBIA is a tautly directed, very gripping psychological thriller with strong performances from its two leads, Gosia Dobrowolska and Sean Scully. Chronicling the last 24 hours of a nine-year marriage, the film is set in a nice suburban house resting on waterfront property. The wife, Dobrowolska, is a Polish...read more

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A low-budget independent film from Australia, PHOBIA is a tautly directed, very gripping psychological thriller with strong performances from its two leads, Gosia Dobrowolska and Sean Scully. Chronicling the last 24 hours of a nine-year marriage, the film is set in a nice suburban house

resting on waterfront property. The wife, Dobrowolska, is a Polish immigrant and suffers from agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces. Although she can move freely in her own house and property, the thought of stepping outside the front gate terrifies her. This presents Dobrowolska with a dilemma,

for she is about to leave her husband, Scully, a psychologist with a severe drinking problem. At first Scully seems agreeable to the separation and asks if there is anything he can help her with to make the move more pleasant. His only concern seems to be for her welfare once she leaves the

premises. Dobrowolska plans to move in with a female family friend until she can work up enough nerve to find her own place. Learning this, Scully--who really doesn't want to see her go--calls the woman behind Dobrowolska's back and forces her to rescind the invitation. Her halfway house suddenly

gone, Dobrowolska begins to quietly panic, fearing that she will be unable to bring herself to stay in a hotel alone. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the seemingly amiable Scully is, in fact, playing vicious mind games with his wife in order to frighten her into staying. Indeed,

Scully is the one with severe mental problems, and, faced with his wife's impending departure, he begins to flip out. When Dobrowolska finally gets wise to the fact that her husband is playing games with her and has spent the last nine years making her worse instead of better, she fights back. The

battle then becomes physical rather than mental, as Scully chases his wife around their property with a knife. Dobrowolska finally works up enough nerve to open the front gate and walk out, leaving her shattered husband alone to wash down a vial of sleeping pills with a quart of whiskey.

A short plot synopsis cannot fully convey the delicate pacing and detailed emotional swings that make PHOBIA so compelling. Setting his film on one location with only two actors, writer-director John Dingwall, a screenwriter (SUNDAY TOO FAR AWAY; BUDDIES) making his directorial debut here, makes

the movie an edge-of-your-seat experience, perfectly combining a thoughtful visual style with excellent acting for maximum dramatic impact. Dingwall's script keeps expository dialog to a minimum, saving the viewer from having to hear the characters tell stories both of them should already know.

Most of the background information is presented visually, with Dingwall using videotape home movies shot in years past to provide much of the backstory for the audience. Although an obvious plot device, the trick works, since the tapes themselves are well done and deeply affecting, adding another

level to the already engrossing story. Dingwall doesn't really take sides in the marital conflict either. Although our sympathies lie with Dobrowolska, Scully's skillful performance allows the viewer to see the doomed husband as a wounded creature in need of help. Alternately charming, funny,

dutiful, paranoid, vicious, and brutal, he is shown to be a ruthless manipulator, but his evil cleverness is a reaction to his feelings of extreme vulnerability. He really does love his wife--unfortunately, the love has manifested itself in a sick and destructive way. Scully, who was a child star

in the early 1960s, should reap many awards for this performance. Dobrowolska, last seen in the US in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY WAYS (1987, Australia), is excellent as well, portraying a confused woman who has finally begun to sort her life out. Although mainly dour, distraught, and vulnerable

for much of the film, her transformation to independence is a triumph. Also revealing are the glimpses of her in the videotapes shot during the early years of their marriage. In a matter of seconds Dobrowolska manages to convey the essence of this shy, modest, almost girlish young woman whose

charming and lively personality would undergo a sad transformation after nine years of a bad marriage. Although it has been shown at film festivals in the US, it is doubtful that PHOBIA will get the major release it deserves. Watch for it on videotape or cable. (Adult situations, profanity,nudity.)

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  • Released: 1988
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A low-budget independent film from Australia, PHOBIA is a tautly directed, very gripping psychological thriller with strong performances from its two leads, Gosia Dobrowolska and Sean Scully. Chronicling the last 24 hours of a nine-year marriage, the film… (more)
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