Bigas Luna’s Anguish seems to have slipped under the radar for a lot of horror fans. I haven’t come across a Chicago screening of the film or even a request for one on social media. I’ve recommended it to several people but haven’t talked to anyone who has actually seen it. Maybe because it was a Spanish production that (presumably) didn’t do well in the US. I don’t know. What I do know is this: it deserves some damn respect!
This review is going to be intentionally vague.. I enthusiastically recommend seeing this movie “blind”, without having read any spoilers or seen any trailers. It will behoove you. Trust me on this. That’s how I saw Anguish and it left quite an impression on me.
The movie begins with a disclaimer about subliminal messages and hypnosis. The film will use them and if you’re feeling ill or if you “feel that your mind is leaving your body” because of these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images and rotating spirals, then you should stop watching. That’s some showmanship right there! Classic William Castle style hype. Right off the bat, I’m on board. Tell me this will be a true story and I’ll raise a skeptical eyebrow. Tell me to stop watching the movie if my psyche becomes disassociated from my body and I will raise an approving thumb! (Please don’t tell my wife I sometimes give the TV a thumbs up.)
After the disclaimer, we get into the story of a schlubby eye doctor’s assistant whose overbearing mother, played by by the late, great Zelda Rubinstein, is controlling his mind through hypnosis. She does this to compel him to murder people and steal their eyes. Why does she need eyeballs? Who knows? From there, the movie gets HOLY SHIT bonkers in terms of throwing the viewer for a loop (or two). Besides its shocking plot twists, the film also features some truly disturbing elements. There are depictions of life imitating art that are particularly unsettling for today’s audiences. Audiences who have come to know of similar cases in the real world where (it would seem) Luna’s art has anticipated life. (My commitment to a spoiler-free review is making this convoluted. But, trust me, viewers today will understand when they see Anguish.)
THE FINAL CUT: Anguish is a unique film that manages to pull the rug out from under even the most seasoned horror viewer. Its depiction of violence (both direct and by proxy) and of the effects of mental abuse is effectively unsettling. Particularly for its poignancy for modern audiences. (It’s rug-pulling strength may be its repeat-viewings weakness though.)