Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unsinkable Lovely Molly

The last time I sat down to watch a film by ½ the Blair Witch team, I was saddled with The Believers, a good idea mangled into a dull movie. Despite this disappointment, the Internet told me that Lovely Molly—an indie made by the OTHER 1/2—was actually quite good.

Let us judge without prejudice. 

Quick Plot: After Molly’s to-the-camera suicide attempt prologue, we flash back a few months to her happy wedding day to Tim, a nice guy truck driver. Although their nuptial toasts are filled with vaguely ominous hints towards a troubled past, the couple seems content enough living together in Molly’s childhood home.

They are not.

Little by little, we piece together some facts: Molly and Tim are financially challenged and need all the work hours (or Tim’s out-of-town trips) they can get. Molly is a recovering drug addict. Her late father was a very bad man. And older sister Hannah (Dead End’s Alexandra Holden) has secrets of her own.

In just two weeks, Molly is spinning out of control. Though she tries to maintain her sanity by documenting her days via found footage, there’s something amiss. The question remains: is she relapsing, losing her mind due to buried childhood trauma, or just an unlikely horror movie victim of demonic possession?

Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Lovely Molly has been receiving a fair amount of praise in the genre blogging circles and I’m pleased to say that it’s well deserved. Though the film isn’t a game changer a la Sanchez’s more famous effort, Lovely Molly has plenty going for it to make the film haunting, memorable, and disturbing on a deeply sad level.

A lot of credit goes to actress Gretchen Lodge in the title role. With a haircut that subtly winks to Mia Farrow, Lodge has the challenge of playing a woman haunted by something unknown. As the audience, we never quite learn if her downward spiral is caused by psychosis or the supernatural, and while Molly isn’t sure herself, Lodge never backs away. Whether she’s shivering behind a camera in the middle of the night or trashing up the join in smoky eye shadow to seduce a local minister, the actress always seems in control of a character who is anything but.

What really makes Lovely Molly special though is its unusual ambiguity. It’s not that uncommon for a minimalist horror film to skirt around the specifics, but there’s something about Lovely Molly’s approach that feels fresh. Compare it to the recent dud Silent House, which tried to build itself on what you couldn’t see only to then draw everything in gigantic print using permanent red marker and THEN crossed everything off because nothing you saw made any sense anyway (not that I’m still bitter about that or anything). 

I could see some viewers being very turned off by Lovely Molly’s noncommittal nature, but I think the execution ultimately makes it effective whether you leave confused or satisfied. The early sequences of suggested horror are done quite well, as quiet sound design plants the seeds of horror that may or may not be paid off in the long run. The film is filled with slightly off images that aren’t explained but linger uncomfortably, be they Molly’s dry humping the air or a photo album ominously collaged with horse heads. 

Though not a perfect film, Lovely Molly is a fresh, surprising, well-executed, and genuinely unnerving little indie that finds something new in a simple and well-trod premise. After 13 years of watching countless filmmakers rub his film’s belly for inspiration, it’s nice to see Sanchez return with something like this.

High Notes
One of my recent miffs with horror cinema has been the seemingly unlimited finances of its characters, be they Screfourem’s deluxe suburban kitchens or Paranormal Activity’s upper middle class snobbery. By making its leads working class, Lovely Molly instantly garners a little more sympathy and also sets up important (and identifiable) roadblocks that helps facilitate the horror

Low Notes
While I like the idea of integrating some bits of found footage from Molly’s handheld camcorder, it never really seems to come together with the full story in a way that makes those shaky cam moments (always undercut by standard filming) worthwhile

Lessons Learned
If your sister is a recovering heroin addict, it’s probably not a good idea to bring over a bag of pot when she’s home alone

Breaking your vows as a minister isn't the worst thing a man of the cloth could do, but the smart ones would avoid doing so with someone who might just totally and very obviously be insane

Crappy health insurance or not, when your boss catches you on surveillance video miming sex with a stranger, it’s time to see a doctor

Lovely Molly is well worth a rental for a quiet and chilly night. While it won’t change horror like Sanchez’s more famous debut, it is a refreshingly new take on ye olde possession tale that works to both make you think and creep you out. The DVD includes a few—whaddya know—Curse of the Blair Witch-style featurettes that purport Molly’s haunting to be deeply rooted in history. They don’t add much, but at five minutes each, they’re fun enough and bring an extra layer or two to the mythos of the film. 


  1. How about that penultimate scene, eh? I wasn't sure if it was silly or terrifying at first, but after a couple more viewings, I've decided it's fucking terrifying.

  2. Yup, I'd vote terrifying. Or at least very eerie...

  3. I'm voting for terrifying as well. I was pleasantly surprised by this - and really wowed by Gretchen Lodge's performance. Have you seen Absentia? It's not quite as dark as this one, but it's another great example of some solid character-driven horror.

  4. I've heard good things about Absentia, but I keep getting it confused with a bunch of other similarly titled films! But good to know. I think it's on Instant Watch so I'll definitely bump it up my queue.

  5. Get on Absentia. No doubt you'll love it.

    This was a fantastically unnerving film. I'm still trying to figure out if the imagery had anything to do with the proceedings.

  6. You know, I think my interpretation of this is very dependent on watching the extras. They definitely feed into the supernatural element, but I think you can easily watch this and say nothing ghostly happened at all. I really love the openness of it all!

  7. I co-sign Absentia.

    You bring up some really great points about Lovely Molly, Emily. Especially how class, or, working class adds a dimension to the film that gives you an investment in the main characters.

    Shrouded in ambiguity, when done successfully, is not always a bad thing. That's something else I appreciated you mentioning. It was like you could play with the fact that she's a recovering drug addict, newly married but in her tormented childhood home alone for most of the time, and also a woman who probably isn't too crazy about her job.

    I won't say that it was all in her head because in the beginning Tim would hear noises coming from the downstairs as well. But Molly become less credible as the film goes on which is a nice, gentle mind screw with the audience. Is it all real, is it now... welp...

  8. Thanks Ashlee! I really wish more horror films would play with class. I feel like it's becoming more and more distracting to watch a movie and think "wow, these people have furnished a really high-end kitchen." There's nothing wrong with having money, but seeing characters actually struggling for a stable income just instantly makes you have a little more sympathy for them.

    Ambiguity is such a hard line to walk in movies, but I agree that Lovely Molly got it right. The character was nuanced enough that you could believe that there was so much going on in her psyche, but at the same time, the little hints at the beginning make it perfectly believable to think there WAS a haunting. It's chilling either way.

    I'm looking forward to eventually revisiting this one. I really hope Eduardo Sanchez stays in the game!

  9. I too will toss in a positive word for Absentia, too, Emily. A very strong indie horror effort for sure.

    As for Lovely Molly, I have it in my queue, but for some reason I didn't know that Sanchez directed it. He also directed a pretty solid alien invasion flick with Altered in 2006, which is certainly worth checking out if you haven't already seen it.

  10. Just bumped Absentia further up the queue. Will definitely check it out soon.

    I don't think I've seen Altered, but I'm SURE it's better than The Believers. Will look into it. Lovely Molly definitely showed that he has a special touch.