Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein will always have a tough time topping “Teeth,” the sensational body-horror film he released to critical acclaim a decade ago. But Lichtenstein gets close to matching that cult favorite with “Angelica,” a Victorian gothic melodrama that — like “Teeth” — features a strong female lead and some disturbing evocations of sexual anxiety.
Based on an Arthur Phillips novel, “Angelica” stars Jena Malone as Constance, the wife of a prominent London medical researcher, John Barton. While giving birth to their first child — named Angelica — Constance suffers injuries to her reproductive system so severe that her doctors suggest she should forever be “a closed garden.”
As her husband’s sexual frustration mounts, he begins expressing his lusts in ways that shock Constance’s genteel late-19th century sensibilities. Simultaneously, their home becomes haunted by a vaguely human-shaped cluster of ethereal insects that Angelica dubs “the flying man,” whose aggressive appetite mirrors John’s.
“Angelica” may disappoint genre fans with its mildness. Apart from a few creepy visitations and a stomach-turning sequence of Dr. Barton practicing vivisection, the movie is more suggestive than explicit with its horror.
But Malone is heartbreaking as a well-meaning woman whose marriage is spinning out of control; and Lichtenstein creates spaces around her that look as convincingly elegant as any big-budget literary adaptation. This is an alternately handsome and harrowing ghost story, about a civilized society haunted by its own unspeakable needs.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena