Sunday 1 December 2019

Philophobia - Film Review

What: Philophobia
When: 30 November 2019
Where: Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick
Written and directed by: Guy Davies
Featuring: James Faulkner, Charlie Frances, Joshua Glenister, Jack Gouldbourne, Kate Isitt, Alexander Lincoln, Harry Lloyd, Kim Spearman
Joshua Glenister and Kim Spearman
Lift-Off is a global film network which began as a festival and is now an international distribution platform which provides opportunities for films to gather audiences and win prizes. As part of it's operations it creates screening festivals around the world and last week it came to Melbourne. A combination of features and shorts, fictions and documentaries, each film is given a chance to be seen and have the opportunity to win prizes and get feedback. One of those films this year was the English coming of age story, Philophobia.

Film titles are important, so let's begin here. Philophobia is the fear of falling in love. Not recognised in the DSM-5, it can still be considered to interfere with a person's lifestyle and can be an anxiety condition.

This is not what Davies' film is about so I am not going to talk about this much more except to explain the main character, Kai (Glenister), wants to be a writer and spends a lot of his time circling words in a dictionary. Philophobia is one of those words.

Kai is about to embark on final exams at high school and he and his 2 mates (they are always in groups of 3 in these kinds of movies) are playing their final pranks, panicking over their final swatting, and planning their opaque futures. Sammy (Frances) is the sexless but sensible friend, Megsy (Gouldbourne) is the clown, and Kai is the dreamer who is the only one with any hope of getting out of the small town and making a real future for himself. I should mention at this point the character of Kai is semi-autobiographical.

These three boys are portrayed as sweet and loveable, getting into some mischief, choofing an awful lot of doobies, but turning their noses up at harder drugs and all of them are virgins. I am starting to find my credibility stretched already... Having said that, they are a fun trio. Gouldbourne pushes a bit too hard at the humour and there is one scene where they are trying to sneak a rifle out of the house which is so fake it was irritating - but that is a direction problem, not the actor's fault. The window just wasn't that high!

Philophobia starts with perhaps the best lines in the film when Kai's English teacher (Faulkner) tells him his writing lacks authenticity and "There's a whole world out there waiting to shit on you. Let it. Use it." No prizes for guessing what this film is going to be about, eh?

Actually, I think the moral of this film is 'be careful what you wish for because you might just get it'. Kai is the teacher's prize pupil and this little piece of advice nearly causes him to fall off the rails. In fact, perhaps it does just that. As with life, the story doesn't end when the cameras stop rolling.

Between getting high, planning the ultimate end of school prank, and sitting exams, Kai has developed an obsession on the young woman (Spearman) who lives across the road from him. Kai's bedroom window looks right across the street into Grace's window and she is the kind of girl who gets undressed with the curtains open. Essentially, Philophobia is a sex fantasy and, again, by the end I just found myself thinking 'be careful what you wish for'.

Grace has a crazy boyfriend, Kenner (Lincoln) who is also the school bully. They are already sexually active and they engage in auto-erotica which Kai discovers at a party when he stalks her and catches them in the act. The rest of the movie is essentially about Kai and Grace trying to stumble their way towards a real connection - something grander and more honourable than just horny teen sex.

The film stumbles over itself though, and I can't help feeling it is because it is confused about what it wants to be. If it is a coming of age story it needs more innocence and a hero. Instead Davies let's it indulge in erotic fantasy and obsession for far too long (it is 2hrs long!) and I got really annoyed with how Grace is depicted the whole way through as, basically, an animated sex dummy. The camera angles, shot framing, and focus pulls are all designed to flatten her out and only show Grace as a mouth to put a dick into.

For a film to work we have to care about the characters and Davies doesn't give me any reason to care about the leads. Kai is vapid, Grace is a blow up doll, and Kenner is portrayed as psychotic. Sammy and Megsy are kind of adorable but they are not who the film is about.

My other problem with this film is at just an hour into it, the movie feels like it has a natural ending but then it starts again - a bit like Luhrmann's Australia. Philophobia would be a much stronger film if Davies had organised it so that these two main plot lines were concurrent. The movie would be shorter and the tensions in both stories would support the other and raise the stakes which might provide a much more fulfilling gestalt in it's final moments.

I suspect it is going to be hard to lock down an appropriate audience for this film. The sex stuff is too sordid for a young teen audience, but the whole point is about coming into adulthood. There are things which make it very young adult, such as the reccurring stag images which are very Harry Potter, and the high school end of year prank which is fun and harmless. On the other hand, the portrayals of women and sex are going to make this a hard one to seat in that age range and the rest of the story is too twee to work for older audiences.

2 Stars

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