“Anguish is the horror movie that finally made me jump! While it was small, and it made my cat jump more than me, it finally succeeded where others had failed. And it did this without blood, gore, demons, (movie) witchcraft or even the “hey lets do it because it’s shocking” that has become quite popular. It just took me by surprise, and I love it for that. Watch Anguish with high expectations and you won’t be let down; watch it with low expectations and you’ll be extraordinarily happy.” – 4.31/5 (genre)
Anguish is anything but. I’ve been holding on to this movie for some time now, ever since it popped up on Netflix, with some hope that it would be something worth watching. It’s of course impossible to tell from the descriptions that Netflix’s gives, seeing as they are the worst possible, and I avoided all other reviews to keep from tainting my opinion about the movie before I even got to see it. This and #Horror (which I’ve yet to watch) were on my top 5 to watch next, but Dark Souls III and Black Desert Online have consumed what little free time I’ve had. So, to the reviewing.
Anguish is about two teenage girls, Lucy (Lucinda) who has all of about 15 minutes of screen time, and Tess who gets the remaining 1:15 of face time. Lucy is introduced to us to first, and the initial 3 minutes of the movie are simply her arguing with her mom in the car. SPOILERS: They pull over and Lucy gets out of the car and is immediately hit and killed by a passing truck. I’ll admit that there are very few movies that make me jump, let alone shout out an expletive usually reserved for the likes of Dark Souls as I get myself killed by the same non-boss for the 189th time in a row, but this did. I didn’t see it coming at all and it was from here that my interest was fully captured. END SPOILERS (sort of)
Tess is a girl who has a diagnosed disorder (I’m actually not fully certain what the disorder is) but she does have hallucinations. The movie flirts a bit with the notion of “is it a hallucination or is it real” mentality but then quickly abandons this in favor its real, get used to it. Tess and her mother move to the town where Lucy and her mother lived, Tess’ father is in the military and away, but still Skype’s in (I assume) to talk with her from time to time. After Tess finds the cross and picture of Lucy by the side of the road, everything takes a turn towards horror movie core covered in a wonderful layer of drama and psychological intrigue (is that a thing?).
I’d rather not delve to much further in to the heart of the movie as this is a journey worth taking without knowing where your going to end up. Anguish dances all around the the usual tropes associated with horror movies that deal with possession, death and afterlife, a troubled child and parents who don’t know how to deal/understand what is happening to said child, and probably a few dozen others I’m forgetting. What makes Anguish unique is that it dances just on the outskirts of these traditional stomping grounds and seemingly laughs at them; laughs at the inability of other movies to fill the shoes that it is dancing in. For those who watch horror movies of many sub-genres you’ll recognize immediately the homage to classics like The Exorcist, and new comers like Insidious (not a fan of that one). In fact, Anguish is what Insidious should have been and never was in any way, shape or form.
The direction of Anguish was wonderful as well, with perfectly laid out shots from angles that make you want to crane your head in hopes it will turn the camera a little so you can see more. The movie utilizes both these enigmatic angles as well as soft droning music to create an atmosphere that keeps you intrigued and on the edge of your seat. For me this meant I talked to the characters, specifically Tess, and tried to warn her on multiple occasions, and yet for some reason she wouldn’t listen to me. Place on this the soft and forlorn song which Lucy sings on multiple occasions and you have the atmospheric effect of a deep fog, where every turn could lead you off a cliff. Enticing no?
The movie is a particularly slow burn with moments of extreme poignancy and shock. When you see the many, many hands against the window it becomes quite clear this movie isn’t going to let you have any down time, even in the slowest moving moments. There’s very little dialogue compared to most horror movies (or movies in general), which I think was to great effect and rather refreshing. Typical horror movie dialogue is usually 50% one person shouting another persons name futilely while simultaneously attracting the whatever-you-call-it to come kill them. This is never the case in Anguish, and in fact the dialogue that is present is quite to the point and serves a purpose with virtually no fluff, as it is so precious that none of it can be spared on filler. This of course means most of the movies suspense and story telling is done visually and audibly. Because of Tess’ condition, it fits perfect and more talking would just detract from the excellent story being told. Even though the story isn’t particularly original (first points lost), it’s done in a different way that makes it feel original and fresh, and keeps you intrigued. At the 30 minutes to go mark, as usual I ask myself how this is going to end, and I love it when I can’t come up with a reasonable ending based on the current events, which is so rare in this genre. Anguish doesn’t let us see where it’s going, sure it’s obvious what is happening, but it leaves every door open (so punny tonight) as to how it will wrap itself up.
I feel at this point I should quickly point out that there is no blood, beyond some cuts, and no gore. Anguish relies heavily on the viewers imagination and creativity to make it feel like something awful is being depicted. While nothing is ever off screen, it takes the simple approach of cutaways. And this is where some may have problems with the movie. The cutaways can be and often are independent of time, and therefore events that will happen can occur prior to events that are happening or vice versa. It adds up to an effect of satisfying confusion and keeping you on point, but some will find it just confusing, or perhaps even annoying. Bare this in mind when going in, along with the long moments of no dialogue and only the emoting of the actors, the music and camera angles to tell you the story happening under the layers of commentary about how society views and deals with those who have been diagnosed with mental disorders.
Finally we come to the acting. Really this is a story about four people: Lucy (Amberley Gridley), Tess (Ryan Simpkins), Sarah (Karina Logue), and Jessica (Annika Marks). Ryan plays Tess, Lucy and the “other” with magnificent aplomb, her every look and motion seemingly informing us of the underlying currents and eddies of the person occupying her is experiencing. She is, without a doubt, the reason for this movies success (not to downplay the script which is very good). She plays her role so well that I am looking forward to seeing other movies shes in, something that virtually never happens (me going and looking for a movie just based on an actor) with maybe the exception of Nicole Kidman. Amberley doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but what time she does have she uses to portray Lucy excellently. The angst ridden teenager is so beyond overplayed, in both movies and real life, that it seems an impossible thing to do without being campy. And yet, Amberley pulls it off, and gives a great deal of depth to Lucy, a character who would otherwise be two dimensional with so little time on the screen. While I can’t spend much time on the mothers, Karina and Annika portray them very solidly. The acting is great, they have a good chemistry with each other which makes they’re eventual meeting and helping each other seem very real, and frankly they feel like actual mothers. My biggest problem is that they accept what is happening far too quickly, and I think their would be more resistance to it. As well, Sarah just happening to have knowledge about these things is too convenient and really just a movie ploy to keep things moving along, an unfortunate but often necessary element. The ending was less than satisfying, but because the journey there was (satisfying) I won’t begrudge it or make a big deal of it. It just could have been better.
Anguish is the horror movie that finally made me jump! While it was small, and it made my cat jump more than me, it finally succeeded where others had failed. And it did this without blood, gore, demons, (movie) witchcraft or even the “hey lets do it because it’s shocking” that has become quite popular. It just took me by surprise, and I love it for that. It transcends the horror genre and takes a run through several other genres before circling back around to where it began. If only the ending was a little stronger this movie would be a top contender for best movie I’ve seen in 2016, but it still gets a solid in the top 5.
Watch Anguish with high expectations and you won’t be let down; watch it with low expectations and you’ll be extraordinarily happy.
Overall: 4.31/5 (genre)