Friday, October 10, 2014

Lovely Molly

Lovely Molly (2012)
Dir. Eduardo Sanchez
Written by Eduardo Sanchez, Jamie Nash
Starring Gretchen Lodge, Alexandra Holden, Johnny Lewis

When newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) move into Molly’s rural old childhood home, things seem nice at first. Then, gradually at the outset and then rather more aggressively, they start to get worse. See, Tim’s a truck driver and gone a lot. And Molly has a pretty troubled past, peppered with drug abuse and mental illness, and a lot of it seems to have started right in this very house. So you can well imagine that left to her own devices, she starts to turn a little unhinged.

What follows is a genuinely effective descent into madness, marked by surprisingly strong acting (particularly by Lodge, phenomenal in an extremely challenging first role) and a solid earthy realism which strengthens, rather than contradicts, the film’s ambiguous supernatural elements. What makes all of this even more surprising is that it is clearly being done on a tiny budget by one of the guys who did BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, not exactly the most promising pedigree in the world.

Why so blue?

The Whole “is he/she crazy or is it ghosts?” thing is a favorite trope of mine, and I think genuinely one of the most truly horrific ideas in the genre. You can always run away from a slasher or a bigfoot, but you can’t escape your own mind. If you can’t be sure what reality is anymore, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you can’t even trust your own perception and judgement. Still, the concept has been done to death by pretty much every ambitious young filmmaker out there who wants to hide a low budget with some shifty ambiguity. It goes back at least to THE HAUNTING, and probably quite a bit further. What makes LOVELY MOLLY stand out is the strong sense of character Lodge instills in its troubled protagonist. She’s adorable and charming, but also completely believable as someone with some deep psychological scars that can’t really be completely hidden under her pretty veneer. Her relationship with her also-fucked-up-but-slightly-more-stable sister (an excellent Alexandra Holden) feels absolutely genuine. She has a real sense of authenticity to her, working her crappy job as a maid at a hotel in rural Maryland and dealing with the everyday struggle to make ends meet on top of her struggle to distance herself from the traumatic past and to maybe deal with some sort of supernatural shenanigans. Too often, horror movies deal with rich people who can devote themselves to solving mysteries. “Why not just move out of the haunted house?” you might ask. You can’t ask that here; she can’t even afford to take a day off work, much less afford to move into a hotel.

Interior decorating 101: You gotta get a demonic horsehead in there somewhere.

Sanchez’s directing is minimal, point-and-shoot kind of stuff, but in a movie like this, which is more about suggestion than horror show antics, that works just fine. The visuals are simple and straightforward, with a handheld, warts-and-all realism approach, and creating mood is mostly left to the editing, score, and performances, all of which are perfectly effective at evoking unease. I heard his last film, the interesting-sounding SEVENTH MOON, is marred by the chaotic visuals you might expect from the guy who invented the whole concept of found-footage nausea-inducing clusterfuckery with BLAIR WITCH; this one is more assured and slower, generally avoiding big money shots but still effectively communicating visually with us. Interestingly, there is a minor (and perhaps unnecessary) found-footage element here, which occasionally interweaves camcorder footage with more traditional omniscient filmmaking -- but even this manages to be perfectly comprehensible, and even makes better use of the format’s voyeuristic qualities than most comparable films do.

Honestly, I’m really beginning to think these little microbudget films are the future of serious horror. Without any money for flashy special effects, they’re forced to rely entirely on imagination and cinematic tools to instill fear in us. They’re forced to do more with less, to keep things simple and work hard to get inside our heads with just a darkened room and an imagination of something vague and horrible that might be out there. ABSENTIA, YELLOWBRICKROAD, RESOLUTION, THE PACT, THE SIGNAL… they’re all in the top horror movies I watched the last couple years, and they all combined cost less than any given 20 minutes of the execrable REMAKE ON ELM STREET.

Later in the movie, Molly descends into the dark underworld of underground deerfighting tournaments.

There are probably one too many twists as LOVELY MOLLEY rounds the final bend, muddling an otherwise perfectly elegant tale with unneeded plottiness as it’s trying to build to a finale. It’s not a dealbreaker, though, just a sign that Sanchez should have had more faith in his filmmaking and performers to take us to the next level, rather than relying on late game surprises. Even so, the whole thing hangs together quite well, capturing a perfect sense of that unease that can creep up on you when you’re alone in a big house. If you’ve ever awoken and thought you heard strange noises downstairs, to perch at the top of the stairwell and peer furtively into the darkened beyond, LOVELY MOLLY will bring you right back there. That ability to capture something deeply real and relatable --yet tinge it with something frightening and alien-- makes the film a resounding success in my book.


The Hunt For Dread October
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: None
  • FOREIGNER: Nope.
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: There's a found footage element, but most of the film is shot conventionally.
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: None, but this Gretchen Lodge chick ought to be going places.
  • BOOBIES: Yeah, lots of nudity, although some rather emotionally traumatic.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: ...yeah, there's a really upsetting demonic assault here.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: No, I think all limbs remained fixed.
  • HAUNTED HOUSE: Definitely.
  • MONSTER: Demon-type guy, maybe.
  • THE UNDEAD: Ghost of Molly's dead father may be involved
  • POSSESSION: Definitely
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): Yes.
  • EVIL CULT: No cult.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid. Not a big theatrical release, but by a veteran Horror guy.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Don't move into a house where you suffered horrific trauma as a child and then stay there alone all the time.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Molly definitely is lovely, and there's a folksong which references it, too. Double whammy!

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