Sunday, 27 March 2016

Growing pains: "Anguish"

No relation to the old Bigas Luna thriller, the slowburn American genre piece Anguish brings at least one new idea to the table, but - from the very first minute - it's guilty of colossal bad faith: an opening title card hedges around the details of a supposedly true-life yet unnamed mental health condition, hijacked here to provide a veneer of medical credibility to all manner of lacklustre plotting and erratic character behaviour. What's novel is the focus on two separate mother-daughter bonds, the one brutally severed in the course of a prologue, the other newly relocated to the kind of generally idyllic Everytown where a teenager might pilot a skateboard down the centre of Main Street without fear of being hit by a delivery truck. This set-up - broadly, M. Night Shyamalan meets David Gordon Green - is semi-intriguing, not least for suggesting that writer-director Sonny Mallhi might just be operating in an adjacent neighborhood to David Robert Mitchell's legitimately creepy It Follows.

Yet Anguish lacks that film's propulsive narrative drive. For much of the running time, we're watching worlds collide in slow motion; jaded gorehounds probably won't be the only ones suppressing yawns and a cry of "get on with it". Oddly, Mallhi provides occasional signs he can do those jolts that might shift a fair bit of multiplex popcorn two or three films down the line: one early gotcha is so unexpected, and so effective, that you come to cower any time anyone subsequently goes near a road. They're squandered, however, on the bog-standard post-Shyamalan backdrop of visions in the front yard, whispers on the soundtrack, and would-be ominous meetings in the underlit offices of priests and health care professionals - dead people as far as the eye can see, basically, and no acknowledgement these might, nearly twenty years on from The Sixth Sense, be dead ideas. Worse still is a frankly insulting, TV movie-level ending, gesturing towards the notion our troubled heroine (Ryan Simpkins) just needed her dad back around the house. Hooray for heteronormativity.

Anguish opens in selected cinemas from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on April 11. 

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