Phobia is a somber, glacially-paced thriller that's a very odd title in the great director John Huston's oeuvre. There was an intriguing idea here, but the complete lack of energy of those both in front of and behind the camera turn it into a real sleeping pill.
The film stars Paul Michael Glaser as a psychiatrist that has created a radical new treatment for patients with debilitating phobias. Basically, all it involves is putting the patient in a glass room and projecting images of their fears up on a huge movie screen; one man is afraid of snakes, a woman is terrified of crowds, etc. etc. Anyway, his test group of five guinea pigs begin dying at the hands of a mysterious killer. Is there someone who wants to destroy Glaser's career, or do they intend to kill him, too?
Phobia has all the components for a superior and suspenseful whiz-bang mystery thriller, so why is it so inert? If Huston's intent was to create a mood of clinical, cold detachment, then he succeeded all too well. The movie creates such an impenetrable wall of lethargy that it is barely able to keep a viewer awake let alone involved. Most of the cast perform as if they were on quaaludes.
The script doesn't help things either by never giving any of the intended victims any dimensions at all; we don't know anything about them, we don't care about them, we don't care that they get killed. The movie just plods along until all of the phobics are finally dispatched and the killer's identity is revealed; however, the motives behind the murders are murky at best. You kind of have to just shrug and just say, "eh."
I have to wonder if John Huston had some sort of contractual obligation that led him to direct Phobia. I only ask because his heart just didn't seem to be in it. Phobia almost makes a film like the histrionic and ludicrous Bruce Willis psychiatric mystery thriller Color of Night seem almost refreshing.