Anguish Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
Released by Arrow Films
Written and directed by Sonny Mallhi
2015, 91minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 11th April 2016
Ryan Simpkins as Tess
Annika Marks as Jessica
Karina Logue as Sarah
Sonny Mallhi's cross-hatched possession drama wears many guises but strangely flatters to deceive. Simpkins' impressive lead performance breathes life into Anguish but is unable to resuscitate it from its ponderous feel. Mallhi has put an inventive spin on a well versed genre but aside from a few creepy episodes, this ambitiously unconventional drama falls flat on the Richter scale of fear. Despite all its shortcomings, credit must be given to the depiction of the fractious mother- daughter relationship, the underlying search for identity and the unnerving view of mental health issues. There’s two films in one here and there’s no doubting that Anguish is at its best when it taps into the emotional despair of the struggling parent. The grief of losing a child and the search for a connection with the living are on an even keel. Both are underpinned by a burdening sense of helplessness; a feeling of complete isolation.
A petty argument between bratty teenager Lucy (Amberley Gridley) and her mother Sarah (the impressive Karina Logue) leads to the sudden death of the former as she’s struck by a passing car. It’s a moment of teen angst that harbours disastrous consequences. The episode plants the seed for things to come as Tess (Ryan Simpkins) and her mother Jessica (Annika Marks) become the prime focus. The predictable inevitably occurs as Lucy’s forlorn spirit is drawn to Tess.
Is Tess inhabited by Lucy’s spirit or is her worldly demise a by-product of her mental health issues? As the dark shadows of anxiety and dementia seemingly wreak havoc, Tess’s mother is desperately trying to help her daughter but with no avail. While Tess iteratively becomes a shadow of her former self, Lucy’s tortured spirit attempts to use her as a last gap device to escape the nether and communicate with her mother one last time. It’s a novel set up and the performances of the female trio are strikingly authentic. The weight of these performances add gravitas to the predictable conclusion.
The notable absence of a male protagonist is telling. Tess’s father is on military service in Afghanistan. Clearly more emotionally attached to her father, Tess shuts her mother out as her mental degradation intensifies and Lucy’s spirit battles to take over her being. There’s no voice of reason nor domineering male presence; a welcome shift in emphasis as maternal instinct runs riot.
The classic tales of possession in the likes of The Exorcist or The Omen are driven by a malevolent force attempting to corrupt the purest soul. Mallhi’s vision is a stark contrast; its softness and delicate climactic motif is a brave stance against the status quo. No vengeance or blood lust is alive in Lucy, just a desire for closure and the chance to say farewell.