Ginger Nuts of Horror
As much as I watch a lot of horror movies, I probably sit and watch an awful lot more horror trailers. I have a couple of Youtube subscriptions set aside for that and that alone, and the problem I often find is that I watch the trailers and rather forget about them. Not that many of them don't look promising, or result in very fine films, but probably more because of the simple quantity I ingest. So when a trailer sticks with me and gets me excited, I know it's probably doing something very right. And this was the case for Anguish, which is a movie I have been looking forward to for months and, when I was fortunate enough to get an invite for an advance screening of this one, I simply couldn't resist the opportunity to head along. Yes it was four trains and rather a late night, but having been so excited for this one I thought it was well worth the journey.
But what of the movie itself? Anguish follows the story of Tess, a teenager who has just moved to a new town and, it quickly becomes apparent, has been suffering with a range of mental health issues. Her young mother, Jessica, is struggling to cope with the pressures of working and raising Tess whilst her husband is away with the military. The movie is really attractively shot, with some beautiful scenery and a great visual aesthetic, which is in evidence from the very get go. It's in this new town that a whole new problem begins to emerge for mother and daughter, however, as Tess begins to take an interest in a young girl who died in a recent car accident, Lucy – a simple memorial to her marks the roadside Tess goes skateboarding by. But when Tess stops there and finds an unknown force pushing her to the ground, things are about to take an unexpected turn...
And so begins a story of possession – often the kind of thing that turns me cold, I must admit, and I've tended to actively avoid the many Hollywood takes on this theme. However in this instance the theme is really well done, as Lucy's spirit latches on to Tess and begins to take over Tess's fragile body and mind. But it's not a possession horror in the vein of The Exorcist or many of the laughable recent mainstream takes on the subgenre. The possessing spirit isn't evil – Lucy is simply not quite ready to move on, and wants to spend more time with her mother having died so young and so early. Of course this leaves Tess in an absolute limbo – quite literally – and Jessica is forced to face the stark fact of her daughter slipping out of her own mind and body. There are some great emotional scenes as Lucy – in Tess's skin – seeks out her mother and Jessica is forced to watch her only child slip away from her and back to Lucy's mother, Sarah.
There's a great quandary, though, in what to ultimately make of this movie. I think that as an exploration of grief, of moving on, of the desperate search for closure, this is really effective. I could feel the pain of both mothers in trying to deal with the awful situation, and Ryan Simpkins' lead performance as Tess/Lucy was genuinely excellent – I hope it's one that will be a breakthrough role for her.
And therein lies the catch. Because as much as I think this is a good movie, I'm just not sure that it's a good horror movie. The elements that are designed to scare – to me at least – feel rather tacked on and don't deliver genuine shivers down the spine. Yes, there is a jump or two, but nothing more than that to really keep a horror viewer riveted. And when you throw in the fact that Lucy isn't a malevolent spirit in any way, shape or form, those elements feel even more out of place. The more I've thought and mulled over Anguish, I wonder to myself what it would have lost for removing the horror-flavoured scenes. It might even have been better for the removal of the horror elements entirely – that's my personal suspicion, anyway. There's one scene towards the end of the movie that gave me a real chill, but other than that the fear doesn't resonate that strongly. As a study in the struggles of mental health, the nature of parenthood and the tragedy of bereavement I loved Anguish. I'm just not sure it's a truly organic horror movie and, as much as I like Anguish as a package, I wonder if it might just slightly fall between two stalls – perhaps not giving enough bang for the buck to hardened horror fans, and potentially turning more general viewers cold with some of its somewhat forced horror aspects.
RATING: 8/10. Anguish was rather sold to me as a horror movie, and I went to the screening expecting a horror movie. I'm not really sure that's what I got, but what I feel like I did get was a very good viewing experience. Simpkins is a revelation in the lead role, and there are scenes between the two mothers, in which they are forced to confront the spiritual battle going on within one body, that I found genuinely affecting. I would just say in closing – don't go into this one expecting to be terrified. It's a dark movie, on the theme of death and mourning, but I don't think it's a straight-up horror feature. Nonetheless, there's an awful lot here to like so it's a solid 8/10 from me.