2017, NR, 95 min. Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. Starring Jena Malone, Ed Stoppard, Janet McTeer, Tovah Feldshuh, Glynnis O’Connor.
REVIEWED By Danielle White, Fri., Nov. 17, 2017
Angelica is a film that has plenty of forces at work, but too many of the forces are working against it. Set in Victorian-era London, Constance (Malone, looking pale and distraught before anything weird even happens) is a store clerk who marries Joseph (Stoppard, broody and brutish), a wealthy scientist. Constance almost dies giving birth to daughter Angelica, and the couple is told they can never have sex again. This is a problem for Joseph, who has trouble controlling his animal urges, and some strange things start happening in the house. Constance hires spiritualist Anne (an appropriately witchy McTeer), who becomes a close friend. As a period piece, the film has enough going for it: The setting is rich and textured, foreboding and Gothic. The dresses designed by Rita Ryack are gorgeous. The supporting characters are properly rigid. There’s a freak show in the town square. It’s the 1880s, so just roll with it.
Where Angelica has trouble coalescing is with the story itself – which Mitchell Lichtenstein (writer/director of 2007’s visceral body horror Teeth) adapted from Arthur Phillips’ novel of the same name. Perhaps I’m too inquisitive a viewer, but I had a lot of logistical questions, such as: Why is the 4-year-old Angelica still sleeping in a crib at the end of her parents’ bed? Where does all the money come from? How could Constance be mistaken for a delivery person when she’s dressed like royalty? How does one of the main characters disappear and no one even notices? And so on. There’s an incident where some trauma endured by Constance physically affects her daughter, and then the storyline is quickly abandoned (perhaps because it suggests incest). The haunty things are more gross than scary, but by that point I was too perplexed to even give a damn.
Because this is really Constance’s story (the title is a bit misleading – though her mothering does border on obsession), it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s just postpartum depression causing her to lose her shit (à la The Yellow Wallpaper). The experience is real to her and so it’s real to us, or at least as real as CGI can imitate. The supernatural elements brush up against some heavy topics, some actual real-life horrors, but like any encounter with a ghost, Angelica is likely to simply leave you cold.