Anguish (NR)

Horror 91 min. December 18, 2015
By Abby Garnett
There's not much to be said about Sonny Mallhi's languid psychological drama moonlighting as a possession-centered horror film that hasn't already been said by the title. Anguish follows Tess (Ryan Simpkins) as she fails to recover from the accidental death of her best friend, Lucy (Amberley Gridley), her grief manifesting itself in increasingly physical ways, until her mother (a very young-looking Annika Marks) begins to believe that Tess is acting as a vessel for spirits -- specifically Lucy's -- to reenter the physical world. Watching Tess and Lucy's mothers (such tired, tired mothers) put this painful nonsense to rest is definitely a sad affair.

Trying his directorial hand after working as a producer on a handful of middle-grade horror films (The Stranger, The Roommate), Mallhi struggles with the self-seriousness of his subject matter. His shots are all portentous darkness and dreary suburban houses, signifiers of detachment and malaise, while melancholy guitar-picking comprises the soundtrack. Simpkins, meanwhile, who bears the brunt of making the possession schtick convincing, isn't seasoned enough to come off as anything more than a sullen teen with a penchant for elaborate tantrums.

With atmosphere this thick, the jump scares are more out of place than startling, and watching two women wearily murmur to each other, "Maybe she just needs...closure" is convincing enough evidence that nobody here is really focused on the shock factor. Mallhi might have nixed his horror aspirations, which only get in Anguish's way, and fleshed out his characters' very real existential dread. That could have been less painful.
Sonny Mallhi Ryan Simpkins, Annika Marks, Karina Logue, Cliff Chamberlain, Amberley Gridley, Ryan O'Nan, Paulina Olszynski, Anu Bhatt Sonny Mallhi Gravitas Ventures

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