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There is a slow progression of quiet, thoughtful horror films in the last few years that have signaled with a mere flag a change in direction. The Visit and It Follows have been small voices in the crowd of zombies and home invasion films that have taken over modern horror cinema.
Add to that small but growing list, Anguish, marking the directorial debut of writer and producer Sonny Mallhi. He takes our hand and shows us the other side of horror, the creeping unease, the uncertainty that comes with the unexplored territory of regular people and private purgatories.
Tess (Ryan Simpkins, Twixt) is a new girl in a new town. Her mother, Jessica (Annika Marks, Sessions), all but promises things will feel normal after she starts school, so Tess, a quiet and reflective teen begins a cursory exploration via skateboard. After she stumbles upon the roadside memorial marker of local deceased teen, Lucy (Amberly Gridley, The Blackout), Tess begins to feel less like herself and more like the girl who just wasn’t ready to go.
My love for possession films is not unknown and I’m familiar with the formula: chance encounter, strange behavior, demonic ranting, priest, dead priest, resolution – OR IS IT, and Anguish only uses the established road map as a guide. When Mallhi makes his own route, you can almost hear the Possession Formula GPS “recalculating route” in an effort to keep up, and eventually falling silent as his way makes more sense on a very human level.
There are no scenes of levitation or growling voices or words begging for assistance in raised scars on skin. Those tropes are for films who need demons and monsters to scare audiences. Anguish recognizes that in all horror, humans come first, and those humans are dealing with some pretty heavy emotions. Tess is starting a new school, on medications for a condition she’s been treated with all of her life, and it’s all very new and scary. Jessica is starting over and wanting to do the best she can for her daughter but plagued with enormous self doubt. Sarah (Karina Logue, Argo) is coming to terms with the loss of her daughter, Lucy, with perpetual grief. Lucy simply isn’t ready to go, and hints of so much more beyond death that terrifies her.
Here’s where the departure from formula is strongest – Lucy isn’t trying to hurt anyone and she isn’t a vengeful spirit. No one is lured into traffic or and no one eats broken glass. On a parallel level, Tess suffers, both from alienation and deep mistrust so she’s willing to step aside and let someone else drive. Jessica is trying to hold it all together with her supportive but physically absent serviceman husband thousands of miles away, and Sarah is a ghost in her own life. Anguish is more than a drama with a ghost – it’s a horror movie with real people in it, not caricatures of worn out characters no one cares about.
You’ll feel for these people, even if you’re not sure if Tess’ psychological condition is real or if Jessica is over-reacting, or if Sarah is clingy. You fear for what comes next, because there aren’t any easy answers for any of them.
If you need lots of screaming and profanity in your horror films, I could probably recommend a few obnoxious ones that would satisfy the desire to see priests tossed out of windows and temperatures drop as demons inexplicably ruin the bodies of their hosts. This movie isn’t for you. If however you’d like a nice quiet evening of dread, Anguish is the movie for you.
Anguish is streaming on better VOD platforms; like Netflix, Amazon, and Google Play.

Anguish is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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