Review: Anglerfish

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Title: Anglerfish
MPAA Rating: 18+
Director: Calvin Welch
Starring: Katy Wilson, John Wilkins III, Paula Black
Runtime: 1 hr

What it is:  It’s the 1900s, Jonathan and Mary are a married couple out in the middle of nowhere who perform chores every night and then listen to their radio for entertainment. One night, at the nearby stream they come across a woman named Juliet who is shaken about a recent loss and has buried her husband near a creek. The married couple takes her in and the husband promises to take Juliet into town the next day. In this arthouse supernatural western, though, nothing is as it seems.

What We Think: There’s odd, there’s bizarre, and then there’s Anglerfish. To say this movie is strange is an absolute understatement. In fact, one might even argue it’s too bizarre for its own good; however, this reviewer happens to be an oddball that enjoys the strange and macabre. Let me give you an idea of my experience with this movie. It opens with Jonathan and Mary doing chores at night and everything seems genuinely in the 1900s. (Excellent props, set, and costumes by the way) The couple prepare dinner, say some macabre things about some cattle then turn on the radio.

   And all of a sudden 80’s sounding synthwave music plays.

   And the two have an extended dance sequence.

  Finally, there’s a strange sex (?) scene where the camera goes haywire, and all we hear is moans while the camera flashes out of control.

    It was at this point that I realized the movie I thought it was going to be wasn’t the case at all, and instead, something far more experimental and interesting was happening before my eyes. This all happened relatively quickly in the movie and immediately it caught me off guard. As far as I was concerned, all bets were off, and literally, anything could happen in this movie. I was beginning to wonder just what the film was trying to convey. At times it was a brooding historical drama with a genuine eeriness about it, and then there were long dance sequences to synth-wave. That paired with certain effects was starting to turn me off for a minute or two. Then the most peculiar thing happened: A nightmare sequence that gave me genuine chills because of how disorientating the effects were. 

     That must sound peculiar, but the strange camera work and effects that at first I saw as somewhat unremarkable turned on me and began working in the movie’s favor. The nightmare sequence gave me a genuine uneasiness that a good chunk of horror movies struggle to get out of me, and presto, I began really liking this movie. The ending is solid and the strange occurrences are somewhat explained by credits, but as any good horror writer knows, fear of the unknown is one of the most primal of fears and this movie certainly dips into that. This movie feels odd, like a liminal space within the mind somewhere between consciousness and REM. It’s hypnotic and strange, unapologetically so and you have to admire a movie that has such a willingness to embrace the bizarre.

    Alright, here are some of the negatives. At times the disorienting camera and effects are a detriment to the movie. Some sequences last far too long and there’s one dance sequence in particular that had such severe flash effects it genuinely began to hurt my eyes. I think a less is more approach with some of the strange camera work and flashing effects would’ve worked in this movie’s favor. Also, some of the acting is a little wooden (certain scenes feel a little too local theater troupe) and some effects obviously suffered due to the low budget quality. (First real supernatural encounter in the film for example). All this being said, I would say the negatives seem to be symptoms of possibly being overly ambitious despite the budget and a lack of restraint, neither of which are horrible movie crimes and honestly are somewhat admirable.

Our Grade: B-, this film feels genuine despite how odd it is. There’s a certain level of passion that you can tell went into this movie which makes it very likable. It has some really interesting ideas that I think would work even better with a higher budget and not such a heavy reliance on certain camera effects. Certain scenes feel the right amount of unsettling and some of the ideas behind it I really enjoyed. While this movie is far from perfect, I would definitely say that with some refinement and maybe more experience under his belt, Calvin Welch has real potential as a filmmaker. I liked this film. It’s strange and odd enough not to be for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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