Anglerfish (2022) Review
Anglerfish live in the perpetual darkness near the ocean floor and use a luminescent fin to attract their prey. So it’s fitting that writer/director Calvin Welch (Rogue Beach, When My Door Is Locked, Who Will Answer?) his film Anglerfish with a shot of water before depositing the viewer into darkness.
Somewhere in this darkness live farmers Jonathan (John Wilkins III, Bad Candy, The Menu) and his wife Mary (Katy Wilson, A Rose for Her Grave: The Randy Roth Story, A Christmas Open House). They seem to lead a very drab existence, he unenthusiastically works the land and she cooks. In between this, we see them dancing equally unhappily to a radio that shouldn’t exist in 1906 that plays music that won’t exist for another century.
One day Mary goes to the creek to get water and finds Juliette (Paula Black, Jack Be Nimble, The Story of Our Lives) who has just buried her husband. She invites the woman to stay with them, making the awkward situation even more so.
Right from its title and the unattributed quote that sounds like a paraphrased bible verse that opens the film it’s obvious Anglerfish isn’t telling a conventional story. The perpetual darkness that envelopes the land and the out-of-time radio make that clearer without giving the viewer much idea about what is going on. Mary talks about her brother’s death in the war and Juliette about an angel of death, suggesting it’s the End of Days but that’s not confirmed.
Similarly, the glowing figure that eventually appears to the characters appears to correspond to the anglerfish itself, only this one lures humans, using both light and the voices of their lost loved ones. Mary’s brother, Juliette’s husband, and Jonathan’s first wife. Is it the angel of death Juliette spoke of? Or a reference to Jesus, the “fisher of men” who will return at the end of the world?
Apart from the deliberately oblique plotting, Anglerfish’s cinematography also makes it hard to figure out just what is going on. Jackson Begley (The Wrong Side of Town, The Road to Cabazon) does a good job of shooting the film, but there are several extended scenes that are so quickly cut or filmed with a strobing light that it makes it almost impossible to be sure of what you’re watching. The film bears a warning about these scenes and if you’re sensitive to them you’ll want to heed it.
By the time it comes to its conclusion, it’s possible to make some educated guesses about what you’ve just seen, but much of it is still open to interpretation. This is art horror in the manner of The Awakening of Lilith or Alchemy of the Spirit with a lot of how you see the story left to your own interpretation.
Unfortunately, Welch is a bit too vague at times leaving the viewer with little to work with when trying to make those interpretations. Anglerfish only runs for an hour and might have been better off using some of the time devoted to the strobing footage to drop a few more hints.
If you don’t mind a film that’s highly cryptic and you don’t have issues with flashing lights then Anglerfish should be right up your alley. Others may find the events between the faux bible verses that open and close the film a bit too much of a challenge. I found it interesting if frustrating and confusing at times. Maybe if I had paid more attention in Sunday School it would have made more sense.
Anglerfish is available on Digital Platforms and can be bought as a Digital download from the production company’s website. And if more strangeness is what you want, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.