PLOT: Following the death of an acquaintance, a young woman's grief-stricken melancholy grows into something far more possessive and sinister.
REVIEW: Just when you thought the pusillanimous punch of PG-13 obsessive-stalker pics THE ROOMMATE and THE CRUSH couldn't get any more impotent, writer Sonny Mallhi turns his tantalizing eye to the aptly titled possession thriller ANGUISH, an affirmatively miserable directorial debut if ever there was one. Note to filmmakers everywhere, it might not be the wisest to title your film with the a dead-on negative descriptor that can be used as a critical cudgel against it. For, ANGUISH offers just that - a painful experience - and might only be more accurate if you took an L (as in loser) and slapped in front of the title to synthesize the word LANGUISH. See, even under the disclaimer of being inspired by true events, ANGUISH offers little more than a maddening morass of dissatisfying inactivity. With its unoriginal story, threadbare plotlines, chintzy low-tech thrills and overall dour demeanor, there's really nothing at all to cling to in this overly rote, unclenching possession piece.
Upon opening, the movie spotlights a young gal named Lucy (Amberley Gridley), whom, just as we come to identify her as a potential lead, gets flattened by a passing car. Right in front of her mother no less. Okay. We then pick up another girl named Tess (Ryan Simpkins) who we can instantly sense has emotional issues. In fact, as a young dead-ringer for Kirsten Dunst, the movie could just as easily be called MELANCHOLIA 2. For Tess is dreary, morose, lachrymose...not a friend in sight, most of her time spent alone, wandering, pondering, aloof, silent. A real barrel of laughs! That is, until she happens upon the roadside gravesite of Lucy, and within seconds, feels an ethereal presence come in contact with her body. Yup, soon the deceased girl's spirit subsumes Tess's fragile being, slowly turning her into a possessed ghoul with little control of her own actions. Of course, this happens far too languidly for it to be very entertaining, with a stint in the hospital delaying the inevitable. The doctors at first think Tess is beset with a case of multiple personality disorder, but as they soon gather, something far more sinister is at work.
Beyond that, there isn't much to expound upon in terms of story beats. The movie slogs along at a drearily wistful pace, studded by only scant doses of light terror. Unconvincing low-fi spooks come in the form of shadows on the wall, handprints in the windows, swaying swing-sets in the yard, etc. Hell, even the possession scenes fail to deliver any modicum of legitimate fright, instead just call to mind movies that treat similar subject matter with far more effective results. I mean, even THE POSSESSION starring Sarah Michelle Gellar that Mallhi produced back in 2008, packs more of a lasting wallop than does ANGUISH. A shame really, as you'd think that now as a first-time director, Mallhi would veer a bit from the spate of unappealing PG-13, star-studded fright-fests he's made a career producing (with the exception being THE STRANGERS, which he also exec-produced). But no such luck. ANGUISH falls victim to all of the shortcomings of those other films (SHUTTER, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, etc.) yet does so without the allure of an attractive A-list actor. That said, youngster Ryan Simpkins acquits herself well enough for the virtually omnipresent yet woefully underwritten part she's tasked with playing. With sparse dialogue reducing her performance to a whole lot of winced facial expressions, cowering body language, emotive eye-work and the like, her commitment is the least of the films faults.
No, the primary downfall here, aside from the flimsy story structure, is the lack of any sort of terrifying action. Really, not much of note happens in the entire film, certainly not enough to warrant a recommendation to hardened horror heads. To atone for this, or at least compensate, Mallhi tries hard to establish an engrossingly morose mood, but it really doesn't materialize beyond mere misery for us the viewers. Nor does it seriously address the issue of depression among adolescents these days. If the film succeeds at all, it's in making us feel the very ANGUISH of its main character, but really, what fun is that if there's nothing else? It isn't done with any measure of earned empathy or sympathy, it's done torturously overwrought, with the overall experience being unpleasant and desirously forgettable. Look, I get that horror movies are often fuelled by and feed off of difficult material, and rightly so, but the good ones never do so at the expense of a bloody good time while watching it. Or at least a scary one. ANGUISH, by contrast, monotonously makes us feel the emotion of its namesake and little else.