Anguish is bold. Its not a particularly transgressive or prodding horror film, but rather one that attempts (and succeeds) to be formally patient, terribly eerie and dramatically affecting all at once. Sonny Mallhis feature debut is a film which follows its characters frights and paranoia yes, but their emotional needs as well, striding into an unexpectedly emotional finale that embraces the supernatural and its many faces.
As Anguish concerns itself with both the gifts and the terror of the other side, so it straddles the otherworldly and intimate psychological distress. Tess is a teenager, moved to a new town by her hardworking mother, while their father and husband is deployed overseas. Tess is also clearly a sufferer of depression and possible identity disorder, a condition only worsening in close proximity to the gravesite of another of the towns young women.
Director Mallhi and young star Ryan Simpkins envelop the audience in Tess head with refreshing and tremendous patience. Mallhi produced The Strangers and last years At the Devils Door, both films marked by a classical elegance in their form and fright, as well as offbeat choices. Here, Mallhi will reveal moments of beauty and terror with a similar glide, presenting the duality of a scenic depressed American town and Tess condition to the audience as she herself discovers it.
As Tess, Simpkins is often wordless, in physically captivating command of her characters teetering. Her headspace is a fraught one, often brought to extremes by interiors. Mallhi, then, brings a freeing air to the outside world, letting moments of Tess in the grassembracing a neighbors dog rather than using it for a cheap joltor by a lake transform into little insights. Theres a similar assurance and respect when Anguish becomes sincerely scary. Its opening moments are an unguarded, authentic exchange between mother and daughter with painful impact. The film never engages in fake-out frights, and so when atmosphere and score grow heavy, the viewer is immediately on edge, knowing the threatto Tess physical or mental healthis genuine. Thats not to mention the powerful images of hallucinatory mental distress or supernatural horror encroaching on an otherwise realist environment. Pictured above is one of Anguishs most striking and creepy moments, which makes an immediate, lasting impression. Later, Tess reveals she is not herself and with one severe look, Simpkins sells a moment that sits between delightfully pulpy and absolutely unsettling.
Perhaps most impressive is that Anguishs aforementioned balance extends to its cast. Simpkins shares the screen with Annika Marks as Tess own mom and Karina Logue as the grieving mother of the recently passed Lucy. Both Marks and Logue are similarly given space to shine, the latter a window into the films offbeat and beautiful destination. There, like last years The Babadook, Anguish is confidently a horror film as much as it is a drama about grief and empathy.