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With a smart premise, creative kills, and a solid cast, “Irrational Fear” is a fun indie horror film that cleverly exploits your deepest fears.

Many people have a phobia, defined as an irrational and disabling fear. It’s one of the most common forms of mental illness in the United States. You might be afraid of a thing, like spiders (arachnophobia) or clowns (coulrophobia), or a situation, like being enclosed in small spaces (claustrophobia). While most people understand they are suffering from an irrational fear, they are powerless to override their panic reaction.

That’s the premise behind Hunter Johnson’s new film Irrational Fear, which he directed and co-wrote with Kevin Sommerfield (both also star in the film). The film stars some familiar indie horror faces, including Chad Mosely, Jennifer Nangle, Baker Chase Powell, Charles Chudabala, and Leah Wiseman.

Johnson is a multi-talented actor, indie filmmaker, writer and producer. His production company, LAHorror.com, specializes in micro budget, character-driven horror films, shorts, and web series (like one of our favorites, Malvolia: Queen of Screams). He stirred up significant buzz in the indie horror community with his first feature film, 2 Jennifer, a cleverly conceived sequel to James Cullen Bressack’s To Jennifer — shot entirely on an iPhone 6, making brilliant use of a micro budget.

His follow-up film, a collaboration between LAHorror.com and Slasher Studios (Dismembering Christmas, Don’t Go To The Reunion) tells the story of six people who are brought together at a secluded cabin owned for a weekend of intense therapy designed to help them conquer their debilitating phobias. But when group members start disappearing one by one, the patients discover that someone has targeted them with the intent of using their deepest fears against them, in a deadly form of extreme exposure therapy.

I really enjoyed the concept for this film, which combines elements of psychological horror with old school backwoods slasher films.

While we may not all suffer from the kind of debilitating phobias which interfere with our day-to-day lives, most of us can relate to the kind of kind of fears we know fully well are irrational but can’t seem to conquer. Many of us have fantasized about a magic cure that would rid us of the useless fears that plague us, often throughout our entire lives. Thus, it’s easy to relate to the characters in this film, empathize with their plight, and feel invested in their desperate desire to just feel normal.

The phobias suffered by the characters in the film are interesting and relatable, including fear of water, fear of touch, fear of germs, fear of imperfection, fear of tooth loss/decay, and fear of ghosts. Knowing upfront the intent of the film to exploit each person’s fears in horrific ways, it was a lot of fun to imagine how the filmmakers would use the premise to creatively kill off the characters one by one. As soon as one of the characters expressed his phobia of losing his teeth, I instinctively winced at the anticipation of what may happen later in the movie — an anticipation of horror that the filmmakers did not fail to deliver on.

The cast of up-and-coming indie actors did a solid job across the board, and I loved how diverse the actors were and how real the characters felt.

Jennifer Nangle (Malvolia: Queen of Screams, Lilith), who never seems to disappoint, is excellent as a character obsessed with impossible beauty standards and the quest for perfection. I would have loved to see her character get more development, as she is so good at expressing a wide range of emotions and really selling any scene. Her character also had one of the most complex and interesting phobias, and there was some great material to mine here.

Though the primary focus of the film is on the entertaining kills and the quest to discover who (or what) is behind them, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some depth to Irrational Fear, as well as a few clever attempts to subvert genre expectations.

For example, Cati Glidewell is a real standout among the cast, and she’s given some meaty material to work with. Her character ends up in a very different place from where she begins, and it’s compelling to watch her evolution. She has a tremendous screen presence to compliment her interesting character arc, and she helps create a believable and layered character.

Without spoiling specific plot points, I loved how the filmmakers worked to take your early expectations and disrupt them in surprising ways.

Unlike most slasher films, we’re given more than a bunch of stereotypes and pretty people in skimpy clothes. Instead, we get a group of people, of all different ages and backgrounds, with very little in common other than their debilitating fears. There wasn’t even the tiniest bit nudity or sex in the film, which is quite unusual for a genre film of this nature. While this may disappoint some, I really appreciated the way the filmmakers stayed focused on the story rather than simply exploiting genre tropes.

Despite the film’s success at challenging genre conventions, don’t expect any jaw-dropping twists or unexpected reveals in the end. There’s an attempt at one, but I suspect you’ll see it coming a mile away. Still, it’s played out well and a lot of fun to watch — even if you were hoping for something more.

While it’s not a perfect film or one that’s likely to break any new ground, Irrational Fear is clearly a labor of love that reflects a sincere respect for the genre and genre audiences. I loved Hunter Johnson’s first film — the clever and memorable, micro-budget film 2 Jennifer — and he’s definitely proving himself to be someone worth watching on the indie horror scene. He does a lot of things right here, and he keeps finding ways to surprise audiences and keep fans watching. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Currently, Irrational Fear is available exclusively on DVD & limited edition Blu-ray. A digital release is coming later in the year.

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