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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest Notes – Anguish

Anguish

This covers familiar territory – more in the mode of Audrey Rose than The Exorcist, though it tackles a theme that dates back to the sub-genre’s ur-text The Dybbuk – in a laid-back, indie-drama manner which gives it a depth not found in the average modern-day possession horror film (of which there are a lot).  It’s relatively light on jump-scares, though the opening scene in which teenager Lucy (Amberley Gridley) bickers with her mother Sarah (Karina Logue) ends with a shock as Lucy storms out of the car and is ploughed along the road by a speeding truck.  Focus then shifts to Tess (Ryan Simkins), a withdrawn teenage girl who is on medication for a complex mental condition, and her loving but tired mom Jessica (Annika Marks).  Tess slips into fugue states and is drawn to the site of Lucy’s death, which seems to have a magnetic attraction for her skateboard, and battened about by invisible forces … then Lucy takes over her body.

 

Though it has a grounded, realistic feel and opens with a caption about the epidemic problem of mental illness in teenagers, this wastes little time on rational explanations … when Tess is able to rattle off minute details of Lucy’s life, both mothers are convinced, but then not sure what to do.  ‘I’m not evil,’ insists Lucy from inside Tess, and Sarah is persuaded to let the dead girl – who admits she’s not sure how to let life go – stay a while so she can connect with Jessica, even as it seems plain that this isn’t going to be an easy, comfortable or safe situation.  Simkins is extraordinary in a complicated role, even managing to suggest the moments when two or more personalities are present in Tess’s body – wthe the dark hint that if Lucy moves on it’s still possible that something other than Tess will come back.  Much of the film involves Tess just hanging about, slightly dissociated from reality, or acting out in ways that disturb anyone around her – there are predictable comments online from some whining that ‘nothing happens’ in a movie which has a complicated plot that also depends on ambiguities, with a resolution that is suggested rather than stated as we wonder whether Lucy persists or whether Tess has learned something from the time-share in her body.

 

It has a nice, misty look and a whispered, understated tone from the tight group of leading actresses.  Even when it defaults to convention – the possessed girl sees off a smarmy priest by knowing that he’s a child molester – the outcome is often unpredictable.  It’s a rare film that manages to make skateboarding eerie, too.  Written and directed by Sonny Mehta, who perhaps surprisingly takes an artier, more personal approach than the slate of genre films he has worked on as producer (including the 2008 Possession,The Strangers, The Roommate, House at the End of the Street and the remakes of Shutter and Oldboy).

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