Film Review: Brigsby Bear

Director Dave McCary’s feature debut Brigsby Bear is a funny and surprisingly heart-warming film. McCary and writers Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney get the tone right. 

James is obsessed with children’s television show Brigsby Bear. The show abruptly ends when James’ life changes drastically. Nevertheless, he sets out

Given the subject matter, there are a number of ways in which the film could have gone wrong. Thankfully, the filmmakers get it right; towing a line between emotional and humorous. Brigsby Bear is funny without diminishing what is a dark premise. 

Jokes in the film hit the mark. Some of the humour is outlandish, but always funny. There a several laugh out loud moments. The screenplay does not simply rely on comedy however. The film has a sweetness that is endearing. The writers and director manage to create a film that is both funny and sweet, but never over sentimental.  

Protagonist James is charming to watch thanks to his naivety and enthusiasm. The concept of the television show is ripe for humour. Filmmakers acknowledge dark side to the narrative without sobering the tone too significantly. The relationships that James develops are a joy to watch, particularly friendship with Spence and his developing relationship with Aubrey. 

Co-writer Kyle Mooney delivers a great central performance as James. Mark Hamill, Ryan Simpkins, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. are also good. The rendering of VHS footage is a nice touch. Many viewers will be able to identify with nostalgia factor of the television show, but probably not quite to this degree. 

Brigsby Bear offers a sweet story which tackles a potentially harrowing subject in a way that gives joy and laughter, as well as a suitable arc for the protagonist. The film is a great watch. 

Brigsby Bear is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Anguish

Anguish

Sonny Mallhi’s directorial debut Anguish is an engaging horror drama that begins well but it let down by a lacklustre final third.

Tess is a teenage girl with a personality disorder. When she moves to a new town with her mother, Tess is left to explore. Tess finds the shrine of the victim of a car accident, who was a similar age. Soon after, Tess starts to experience strange things…

With Anguish, writer and director Sonny Mallhi has crafted a drama with a distinct horror edge. Many horror films with a focus on mental illness have been made. Anguish acknowledges its theme in the epigraph. For much of the film, the emphasis seems different to many films that exploit mental illness as a danger to others. Instead, Anguish concentrates on the threat the illness has on protagonist Tess. This good work is undone later in the film, however. Delving into the supernatural does give an explanation for what occurs, but it is not a particularly satisfying one.

It is a shame that Mallhi chooses this direction, because the mystery over what ails Tess is enough to keep viewers engaged until the final third. When the causes is revealed and countered, it rings hollow. For a film to claim a serious concern with mental illness (and purportedly based on true events no less), it feels like a bit of a cop out.

There are some jumpy moments in Anguish, but the emphasis is on a quieter style of horror. Much of the focus is on Tess alone, and this isolation is effective in generating atmosphere. There are no big showy effects; the film is more subtle than this. The moments when Tess is alone generate the most unease.

Sound design in the film is overbearing at times. It seems as if the filmmakers wished to convey Tess’ mental state, but the score is jarring as it tries to evoke tension. Ryan Simpkins is well cast as the introverted Tess.

Anguish certainly has some streaks of promise, but it seems like Mallhi ran out of ideas in attempting to conclude the film.