Written by: Eduardo Sánchez & Jamie Nash (screenplay)
Directed by: Eduardo Sánchez
Starring: Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis and Alexandra Holden
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“I can't believe you moved back into this house..."
Eduardo Sánchez has to feel a little slighted about this whole found footage thing. He was one of the guys who helped introduce the world to the format back in ‘99 with The Blair Witch Project, but, like Ruggero Deodato before him, he was a little ahead of the curve. About a decade later, Oren Peli and his bunch came along with Paranormal Activity, and the concept stuck; apparently, the world was finally ready for so many imitators that it’s essentially become its own genre. As such, Sánchez has sort of returned to the scene of the crime with Lovely Molly, which actually borrows the aesthetic more than it completely embraces it, an approach that tinkers with the formula enough to make it work in a way that really highlights its horror-inducing appeal.
The opening few scenes look like straight-up found footage, as we get a camcorder glimpse at Molly’s (Gretchen Lodge) wedding. After the nuptials she and her husband, Tim (Johnny Lewis), move into Molly’s childhood home, which seems preferable to moving into some old, abandoned mansion--at least until weird noises begin emanating basement and it becomes clear that moving back here has opened up a Pandora’s box of issues in Molly’s mind. She becomes detached and disturbed, haunted by a malevolent entity that might just be a manifestation of childhood trauma.
There’s a whole lot of Paranormal Activity in that set up, and Lovely Molly briefly proceeds in that manner. Both Molly and Tim investigate the strange disturbances--footsteps, people knocking against the window, etc.--and there’s a general bump-in-the-night quality to it at first. But this isn’t really that kind of movie--it’s more about the after affects of those bumps and ends up resembling Repulsion, right down to the rotting animal carcass that eventually shows up. It’s a real skin-crawler too, but not in the way most films like this are; though it eventually gets a little visceral as Sanchez continues to unpeel the psychological layers, it’s more disturbing to watch Molly slowly come apart at the seams and deteriorate from a happy newlywed into this poor girl whose issues have bubbled all the way to the surface to overwhelm her.
The movie refuses to go broad and hysterical with it, though, and Lodge’s performance is natural and dialed down to normal human being levels. The script might give her some overtly creepy moments, like her attempted seduction of a local priest, but her basic humanity is never lost. This approach sort of reminded me of The Exorcist, a movie that’s most infamous for Linda Blair shooting pea-soup vomit and masturbating with a crucifix and such, but is more disquieting in its corruption of innocence and crises of faith. Lovely Molly never quite gets that nuts, but even the more savage events are treated with restraint and creepiness. You’re not just watching some girl go crazy and be a conduit for bizarre, weird stuff; instead, the movie’s much more interested in showing how this affects her and those around her. A despairing helplessness haunts the film, and Lodge’s Molly feels like a girl fighting for her life, soul, and even her body. Sometimes, she just looks uncomfortable in her own skin; sometimes, it looks like someone else has completely inhabited it.
Sánchez also didn’t listen too much to the folks who yelled at him for making a guy standing in the corner the money shot of The Blair Witch Project. While Lovely Molly offers a little bit more to chew on, it’s still rather ambiguous, with the central uncertainty hinging on whether Molly’s actually being stalked by a poltergeist or if she’s just crazy. The film offers plenty of evidence for the latter, as it slowly fills in the blanks of her past--the drug abuse, the stint in a mental institution, the unnatural fear of her dead father. He only appears in family photographs, and he’s a bone-chilling, sinister looking SOB who seems to gaze right through you. Otherwise, he might only be appearing in Molly’s head, but his presence lingers throughout the film all the same. As the movie wears on, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening--or at least what Molly thinks is happening--but I like that the film allows us to connect the dots ourselves, save for the ones that are kind of way out there and go completely unexplained.
The ambiguity also allows Sánchez to utilize found footage in a unique way; for the most part, Lovely Molly just resembles the approach with its intimate, hand-held camerawork and its sparse score. Occasionally, though, there are actual point-of-view camcorder interludes, and, for the most part, it’s all the scary parts. We see Molly recording a video diary, but other scenes have her (or maybe someone else?) skulking through the basement or the nearby neighborhood spying on a local family. Sánchez cleverly skirts around anything that would offer definitive proof; for example, we see Molly getting spooked down in the bowels of the department store she works at, but the scene abruptly cuts away, which seems like a cheat until we see security camera footage of the Entity-style event later. The detachment and uncertainty offered by this approach is much more unsettling than seeing it conventionally, and the film has an extra layer of horror salted on it because of it.
For whatever reason, Sánchez must have been written off as a bit of a gimmick, but that seems unfair in light of both this and The Blair Witch Project, two films that successfully channel primal, unnerving fear. This guy figured out that bare essential, stripped-down-to-its-bones horror can work because everyone’s afraid of weird noises, whether they’re out in the woods or in your house. As penance, he got sent direct to video and was the butt of a joke in Eastbound and Down. I think it’s time we let him back into the club since Lovely Molly shows he has more bullets in the clip and isn’t content to just remind everyone he was doing this stuff a decade ago; instead, he reclaims his territory by reconfiguring it ever so slightly. It’s not as groundbreaking as his debut, but I find it hard to believe that no major studio picked it up for distribution, especially considering the arid horror landscape this past summer.
Their loss is Image Entertainment’s gain, though, as they’ll be bringing it to DVD and Blu-ray later this month. The high-def disc is pretty solid, with a sturdy video transfer and an engrossing DTS-MA surround track that swirls throughout a sound system. Extra features are a little light; in addition to Sanchez and co-writer Jamie Nash’s audio commentary, there’s a handful of short features that work like an extension of the film itself. Whoever put it together must have thought it was 1999 all over again because they’re almost like those fake documentaries that accompanied Blair Witch and treated it as an actual event. Neat stuff, but kind of fluffy in this case, especially since it unnecessarily fills in some gaps. Lovely Molly itself won't exactly take you back to 1999--it's not as ground-breaking or as pulse quickening as Sanchez's debut, it's still pretty great for 2012, and that's good enough. Buy it!
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