Anguish, directed by Sonny Mallhi begins with horrific intentions – my kind of film methinks as I snuggle under my duvet and settle into the narrative. Tess – a young girl with a personality disorder is on tonnes of medication and has been so since the age of five. As the narrative unfolds, Mallhi uses subtle hints of terror that suggest to the audience that perhaps what Tess is seeing and experiencing is not all in her mind.
Tess spends a lot of time on her own as her mum works long hours to pay off the mounting hospital debts; her dad although away in the army remains a positive influence on her as he teaches her guitar on Skype and encourages her to skateboard regardless of her mother’s reservations.
As we watch her walking down the all American Main Street and skateboarding through town, Tess appears as a normal teenager. However she is a loner: preferring to sit alone in the open spaces by her home instead of the claustrophobic confines of her house where life runs by clockwork of medication. During this time the camera tracks her movements which are a subtle indication to the audience that Tess is being watched.
The jumps are pretty epic: by the time you get to the end of the first act, where the pace has slowly built up a tension, just her mum coming up behind her to put a blanket on her made me jump out of my skin. By second act, the tone changes to a dark and compelling one: Tess becomes even more withdrawn while also displaying worrying behaviour as she is internally terrorised, begging for her mind back. She’s hearing voices and noises, seeing strange images. The weaves of the narrative also begin to link to the events which occurred in the first act. The tension becomes palpable and Tess’ mental terror is no longer subtle as she is haunted by the actions and voices that declare: “I won’t stop!!!”
During this second act the question arises: why Tess? Which is a question many of us who suffer from mental health issues and unexplained illnesses ask ourselves.
What I loved about this film is that the dialogue is minimal and the soundtrack to the quiet scenes are uncomfortable like scratching on a chalkboard. I felt constantly on edge – just like Tess. I also found it extremely difficult to believe that so people had rated this film so lowly.
However, my love for Anguish diminished within the final act.
It angered me that it then became a film about demonic possession, causing the film to definitively crossover from a blurred question mark to definitive possession. Anguish is apparently inspired by true events, which I cannot argue with. However, many people with unexplained conditions (myself included) have to constantly battle against narrow minded ‘know-it-alls’ who blame the supernatural for our conditions rather than looking to science for answers. I would’ve preferred to have been left in the unknown to be honest.