Monday, 13 July 2015

ANGUISH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Supernatural meets Mental Illness @FantAsia2015

Anguish (2015)
Dir. Sonny Mallhi
Starring: Ryan Simpkins, Amberley Gridley,
Annika Marks, Karina Logue, Cliff Chamberlain, Ryan O'Nan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two mothers. Two teenage daughters. Bound by tragedy, love and possession.

One mother, Sarah (Karina Logue), loses her daughter, Lucy (Amberley Gridley) in a horrific freak car accident. The other mother, Jessica (Annika Marks), feels like she is losing her daughter, Tess (Ryan Simpkins), to the child's lifelong mental illness which appears to be getting worse. Sarah's guilt is rooted in an argument which led to the accident. Jessica, hoping a change of environment might have alleviated the mental illness, now feels like their move to a new home is contributing to her child's increasing withdrawal.

Sonny Mallhi's deeply moving feature directorial debut is a sensitive, telling exploration of teen ennui and the powerful bond of mothers and daughters. That the story plays out against the subtle, but clearly apparent backdrops of America's financial crisis, as well as that of so many fathers separated from their families to fight a spurious war against terror, are elements which deepen the experience of seeing the film.

As it turns out, the living members of the mother-daughter equation face substantial challenges due to the constant misdiagnoses of the various mental disorders plaguing Tess. The world of medicine and science chooses easy ways out by prescribing one raft of mood-altering medications after another and when all appears lost, the status quo wishes to resort to medical incarceration for "further study".

What nobody considers is that some people, even children, have gifts science knows nothing about (and even if it did, it would refuse to acknowledge such powers). Alas, these gifts and worse yet, the not-knowing atmosphere surrounding them, leads to the kind of trouble that takes Anguish into harrowing directions.

In a nutshell, the picture will scare the crap out of you.

Employing a deft mixture of ultra-creepy quiet with jolting shock cuts, Mallhi's direction is often a wonder of control, especially since he wisely blends all this the very real problem of mental illness amongst so many recent generations of young people with the supernatural. This is played out in a number of ways.

Tess is continually drawn to nocturnal episodes wherein she plops herself down in the bucolic setting their new home borders on, grassy fields, ponds and forests. This is all well and good until very weird and scary shit begins to happen. On an almost daily basis, Tess visits the roadside memorial marker of Lucy, the little girl she's never known. When she befriends Lucy's Mom, Sarah, a book store proprietor, she utters a few words disturbingly familiar to the grief-stricken mother. Every so often, Tess even says things to her own Mom that make no sense, as if they're coming from somewhere or someone else.

In desperation, Jessica seeks solace from the young, well-meaning parish priest (Ryan O'Nan). When Tess speaks privately to the "good" Father, she reveals some private details of his life only he would know. Oh, and of course, the priest's deceased little brother. The clearly freaked-out man of the cloth is convinced an exorcism is in order. Jessica seems willing to consider this since medical science is proving to be useless.

Wisely, Mallhi's screenplay and mise-en-scene don't cheat and lead us down the garden path of "is she or isn't she crazy". The mental illness and mood-altering drugs may well be exacerbating things, but he is always careful, very early on to make sure that everything horrifying is not just from Tess's perspective. When she departs from any of the seemingly supernatural encounters, Mallhi's camera lingers and we feel a definite otherworldly POV.

There are also some nagging visitations as well as physical changes in Tess.

When Tess and Jessica find themselves in Sarah's presence in her home, the very home in which the deceased Lucy lived, hell breaks loose and the film provides several terrifying set pieces.

There is much to admire about Anguish. Mallhi errs, however, as he tries to scare us a few too many times in the picture's first two-thirds and then emphasizes, with added credits providing stats of mental illness and worse, that the film is "inspired" by true events. Who cares? His film is not only a major creep-fest and bonafide horror film that it's completely unnecessary to so obviously root the movie in "truth". Part of the film's success is the "truth" Mallhi infuses into the characters and story, as well as the truth emanating from the fine cast.

Perhaps this is unfair, but I'm going to chalk these aberrations up to meddling from producers and/or distributors. At the very least, I think it's safe to say he got some bad advice and stuck to it. It doesn't ruin the picture, though. It's a bit like a fly in the ointment.

All that aside, Anguish is replete with sensitivity, truth and the need for some audiences to wear adult diapers in case of the soiling which may occur when the movie petrifies us to our very bone marrow.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-half-stars

Anguish premiers at the FantAsia International Film Festival in Montreal