Every horror fiend worth his or her boomstick knows the ’80s horror drill. A group of unsuspecting, soon-to-be victims retreat to a house party or secluded location in the woods. An unknown threat proceeds to drop bodies one by one until a final girl and, if luck should have it, one of her friends remain. This standard premise established during the heyday of horror is a sacred story-line to which modern genre features often pay homage. Filmmaker Hunter Johnson (2 Jennifer) does just this adding the framework of debilitating phobias in Irrational Fear, a psychological horror serving as the director’s second feature film.
Opening with a paranoid girl experiencing psychosis before meeting a gruesome end, Irrational Fear captures your attention like knitting needles to the head with subtle nods to genre classics. With this psychotic episode setting the tone, we’re introduced to Zach (Baker Powell: Little Dead Rotting Hood), a passionate teacher’s assistant who plans to document an intensive therapy session lead by Doctor Sanders (Charles Chudabala: Ugly Sweater Party). Convinced the doctor’s therapeutic methods have nearly cured his fear of ghosts, Zach encourages Taylor (Leah Wiseman: Family Possessions), a young college student afflicted with haphephobia, to attend the therapy retreat at a secluded lakeside cabin with six other patients. Alone in the woods with phobia plagued strangers attempting to face their inner demons head-on all at once? What could possibly go wrong? The short answer is … everything.
Upon the group’s arrival, it’s clear some personalities will soon clash. When Kelly (Jennifer Nangle: Malvolia: The Queen of Screams series) makes a supercilious remark about calories as Helen (Cati Glidewell: Gags The Clown) takes a swig from a flask, the sarcastic blonde boozer humorously gives a subtle reply with her finger while taking another drink. Meanwhile, Jake (Kaleb Shorey: Shameless TV series) has to be coaxed out of the car due to his overwhelming fear of germs. Eager to begin therapy to treat his fear of choking, Cameron (Mathias Blake) takes his luggage to the cabin. Already making themselves at home are Zach and Taylor who have some puppy love manifesting … which is an interesting plot angle considering the latter fears being touched.
With the traditional beloved ’80s slasher setting established, it isn’t long before fears mysteriously come to life claiming one victim after another. Are deadly hallucinations somehow causing the therapy patients’ demise? Is a deranged stalker the culprit behind these bizarre deaths? Or has one of the phobia-driven individuals lost their mind? As answers come to light, Johnson infuses a sharp, unique twist in one maniacal bloodbath reveal.
Although effective, the conclusive ending to Irrational Fear could have further been fleshed out with the use of flashbacks. This could have placed more emphasis on a crucial plot point many audiences may miss. Other small quibbles include underdevelopment of certain characters and low production value, which can still be appreciated by any fan of small budgeted indie flicks. After all, as some of the most loved modest-budgeted 70’s/80’s horror illustrates, Hollywood flare isn’t everything, and this DYI charm certainly shows through in Johnson’s second spin in the director’s chair.
Contributing to this indie flick’s allure is the fact that it gives every cast member a chance to shine. Shorey shows off his screaming skills as he’s suddenly doused with blood, a traumatic moment for any germophobe, and Nangle quite literally shows off her inner scream queen at the site of bloody murder. Chudabala also gives a notable performance demonstrating range through tranquility and insanity as reality goes off the rails. Also standing out while adding a comedic touch is Glidewell in her acting debut playing the part of a takes-no-sass smart-ass to perfection.
Despite its shortcomings, Irrational Fear is a gruesome delight for any indie horror fan longing for the good ‘ol days of Friday the 13th (1980) and Sleepaway Camp (1983). The nights and frights of forest dwelling terrors creeping in the woods. The thrills and chills … you get the point. With an original release date in 2017, this bloodbath throwback is newly available on Amazon Prime and other VOD streaming platforms for your viewing pleasure.