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Exclusive Interview: The creators of “PHILOPHOBIA,” the best new horror film you haven’t seen, Part Two

Friday, March 13, 2020 | Interviews


Released with no fanfare last November, PHILOPHOBIA: OR THE FEAR OF FALLING IN LOVE deserves more attention than it has received. The story of slacker Damien (Aaron Burt, who also scripted), his inability to romantically commit to Danielle (Emily Pearse) and the creepy characters who haunt him, PHILOPHOBIA is a creepy, funny independent achievement for Burt and director Tyler Cole. Our conversation with the duo, which began here, continues below…

Were you deliberately trying to address the subject of toxic masculinity, or does that just come with the territory of a story like this?

AARON BURT: Yeah, definitely: toxic masculinity, insecurity, the modern male who’s sort of a shell of who he was at one point. Modern dating in general, and how disconnected it is and how scary it can be. I wouldn’t say Damien and I are similar, really, though we share certain aspects of each other. His flaws are my flaws, I guess, but worse and bigger! But Dani is me too in some places. I think everyone has been a Dani or a Damien at one point or another in their lives. I ran with Damien’s flaws a bit more. I wanted him to be very flawed, yet I wanted people not to necessarily see him as a complete asshole–which plenty of people still think he is.

Did the actresses have any issues with the film? Did everyone understand the attitude?

AB: Emily specifically said she’d never read a script that was so much like it was inside her head. So for all the faults of the male characters, all the female roles, apart from Nancy (Carly Reeves), are pretty sharp and assertive. And the men are kind of idiots and don’t really have a point of view. They’re all nebbish men-children. I really wanted that to hit home. It’s like Ricky Gervais makes jokes, and people take offense to him, but he says those people are missing where the humor is. The humor actually lies in the ignorance of the joke. Ricky Gervais is the idiot–on purpose. So it’s kind of similar to that. I’m making fun of the guys in the movie, even though they’re on screen the most. Some of the reviews we’ve gotten from women have said they appreciated getting to look behind the curtain.

It’s horrible behind the curtain! Don’t look back here!

AB: Yeah, it’s not like Oz.

Tell us a bit about the cast. Are they all your friends, or did you have to do formal casting?

TYLER COLE: It was a mix of both. A lot of them were friends of ours, and Aaron even wrote some parts for specific people.

AB: I wrote the part of Travis for Darren Keefe Reiher, definitely. He actually lives next door to me, so we shot in his own apartment too. I knew he’d be perfect for that role. I’d also written Nancy with someone in mind, but that fell through and Carly came in and basically was that character. That’s Carly’s personality–without the coke, I guess! She’s Tom Hanks’ niece, by the way.

TC: Dani was very difficult to find. She was a couple of days of casting until we found Emily, who was perfect. David Legel, who plays Alan, is also Aaron’s friend, but…

AB: I wanted William Jackson Harper. He’s a friend of mine and he’s awesome, and we were talking to him right before he started shooting the first season of THE GOOD PLACE, and obviously he just blew up and we couldn’t get him anymore. But David did a great job. And Dan J. Evans, who plays the bartender, is Darren’s roommate in real life. I told him the bartender was kind of homaging the one from THE SHINING, and he was like, “Yes!”

He’s a really weird character. Even more than the ghosts with the bleeding eyes, I can imagine him really working in the film’s previous, ominous version.

AB: Exactly. We have a few misdirects like that, where you don’t really know what’s real and what’s in Damien’s head.

Are you horror guys, generally speaking? Is that why you wanted the horror aspects in this?

TC: I’d say my influences are more like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers. Mixing genres and adding some comedy is kind of our thing, which everyone tells you not to do. It doesn’t work for everybody, but personally I love seeing movies that have you on the edge of your seat and laughing at the same time, and you don’t quite know what the appropriate response is.

AB: AFTER HOURS was a big touchstone for me with this, because it’s so weird and you don’t know what’s happening, but it’s funny enough that you can watch it again and get the exact same feeling even when you know the end point. I can still watch that movie and feel entertained.

You mentioned a previous screenplay called THE PROMISE. What was that?

TC: It’s a psychological thriller/comedy, inspired by true events. It’s pretty crazy structurally, too. We’ve just started taking it around and pitching it. Right now we have about 15 people reading the script. Hopefully it’ll get off the ground this year.

AB: I think that’s going to be a really unique movie, the way we want to do it. It’s going to be cool. It’s female empowerment and true crime–the two things everyone loves! But it’s really weird.

And what about your long-mooted project STATIC?

TC: That’s kind of like an anti-zombie zombie movie with a lot of heart. It’s a really good script. It’s very simple, because Aaron wrote it with a low budget in mind. We thought we could make it for nothing in New Mexico. We had all the locations ready to go, but I don’t know if we’ll ever do it now. Aaron’s checked out on that one.

AB: I’m kind of over that one, but Tyler still likes it and keeps pushing it.

TC: Then we’ve got a film called KILLIN’ IT, which we hope to do after THE PROMISE. That’s just fun and ridiculous. I can’t really go into it, but it’s a comedy.

Is PHILOPHOBIA working as a calling card for you now?

TC: It’s opening a lot of doors as far as getting companies to respond. Now at least we have something to show people, and we’re currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes from the few reviews we’ve received, which is helpful.

Did you know that there’s another PHILOPHOBIA, also made last year?

AB: Yes, it’s British, and weirdly they were shooting at the same time as us, so we were both posting behind-the-scenes photos to Instagram with the same hashtags and it all got really confusing! It feels like we’re pseudo-buddies but also rivals, not that there’s any animosity or anything. It’s just a really strange coincidence. But theirs isn’t out yet…

So how can RUE MORGUE’s readers watch your PHILOPHOBIA?

TC: Right now you can get the film pretty much everywhere: Amazon, Google Play, Hulu, Xbox, PlayStation, iTunes. And then there’s a Blu-ray at Amazon and Best Buy and Walmart and all that. It’s out there. People just don’t know about it!