Film Review: Anguish

A good little horror movie with a great little title seems to have come out of nowhere.
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The last movie called Anguish was also in the horror genre, a 1987 Spanish feature from Bigas Luna. Coincidentally, this American indie boasts some European flair—as if Robert Bresson directed The Exorcist or a giallo thriller. Horror fans might be slightly disappointed that the shocks are not fully delivered, but others will appreciate its pensive, low-key approach.

Writer-producer Sonny Mallhi (The Strangers, The Roommate) demonstrates a genuine directorial flair of his own in his debut as a helmer. In Mallhi’s original story, supposedly based on real events, Ryan Simpkins plays Tess, a troubled teenager with an anxiety disorder that is worsened when she and her mother, Jessica (Annika Marks), move to a town outside Chicago and Tess stumbles upon a roadside shrine for another young lady, the deceased Lucy (Amberley Gridley), a hit-and-run victim.

After seeing a number of odd and scary visions, Tess tracks down Lucy’s mother, Sarah (Karina Logue), who is still distraught over her daughter’s death. In Sarah’s house, Tess becomes possessed by the spirit of Lucy, to the point where both Sarah and Jessica enlist a priest to perform an exorcism. In the end, Tess is caught between two worlds and must herself fight the malevolent spirits.

What sets Anguish apart from other supernatural tales with similar storylines are at least two distinct components: the entire narrative being centered around female characters (all the males play small or inconsequential roles), and Mallhi’s expert way of creating a suspenseful atmosphere with minimal effects.

In fact, it is this very subtle stylization that makes Anguish stand out from the glut of more recent horror efforts, particularly graphic and gruesome “torture porn.” There are a couple of gratuitous shocks early in the story and the last reels copy The Exorcist too much, but overall Mallhi, his cast and his crew create a haunting and emotionally moving mood piece.

Special credit goes to Amanda Treyz’s ace lensing, James Curd’s unobtrusive score, and Andrew Coutts and Matt Diezel’s sharp editing. Among the players, Simpkins and Logue stand out the most.

Just as the 1987 Anguish has become a cult favorite, the 2015 Anguish may do the same one day, especially if certain audiences consider it too understated. Whether now or later, viewers will be pleasantly surprised.

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