Set in the rolling hills of the English countryside, Guy Davies’ Philophobia is a picture of small-town adolescence. With only one more week of high school remaining, Kai (Joshua Glenister), an aspiring writer, and his friends are both excited and terrified about what lies ahead. As the clock ticks down on their school experience, the teens must wrestle with their awaked sexual desires and new battles with power in ways that may leave them all changed forever.
Written and directed by Guy Davies, Philophobia is an interesting coming-of-age film that balances the realities and fantasies of adolescence. As one of the key moments in the lives of every teen, Philophobia shows much of the angst, confusion and fear associated with the end of high school. Engaging performances from its cast of youth serve as a window into the heart of an age where teens are caught between the life they have known and the life they have not yet discovered. What’s more, by telling the story primarily through the mind of Kai, Davies allows himself the freedom to move back and forth between the situations that every teen faces and the images and dreams that they harbour in their minds. What’s more, stemming from his own personal experience, Davies’ film also captures the contradictory nature of small-town life by highlighting its intimate nature but also its suffocating environment. As such, the film wisely maintains a small scope with huge implications on the horizon.
For Kai, the biggest questions involve the future but not only for his career and future job opportunities. By emphasizing the gap between youth and adults, Philophobia effectively underscores the difficulties of growing up when young people are lacking in mentors. With few strong male role models in his life, Kai’s heart questions the very nature of masculinity. Yearning for the (literal) girl next door and bullied by her boyfriend, Kai wonders what it means to be a man. Caught between youth and adulthood, he wrestles with issues of power, sexuality and simply balancing fun and responsibility. As he navigates these difficult questions, few adults seem to understand—or are even interested in—his journey, despite his obvious search for role models. (This also is shown through Davies’ recurring motif of a mysterious stag that mysteriously appears in the distance during moments where Kai needs guidance.)
Due to this sort of emotional neglect, Kai and his friends are left adrift in a sea of confusion to discover for themselves who they want to be. As a result, there remains an intrinsic sadness within this coming-of-age tale that speaks to what happens when adults lose sight of the seriousness of the challenges of youth and cease to listen to their issues. To these adults, love and patience give way to telling them to ‘follow the rules’ and, in the process, the youth become further alienated. (To be fair, there is at least one male teacher who cares about Kai’s future and well-being, even if his encouragement is fleeting at best.)
Philophobia may mean the fear of falling in love but, in the end, the film demonstrates most clearly the fear of stepping into the future. Torn between teen and adulthood, Kai and his friends wonder what life has in store for them and what it means to lean into the unknown. However, without caring support from adults who have experienced this transition themselves, this moment in time can be much more difficult.
To hear audio of our interview with writer/director Guy Davies, click here.
Philophobia debuted last night at Heartland International Film Festival and will also screen at the San Diego Film Festival on Thursday, October 17th, 2019.