Movie Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of the THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) and writer/director of ALTERED (2006), has a new film out called LOVELY MOLLY (2011). It’s an interesting Frankenstein’s monster, incorporating both the hand-held camera work used in BLAIR WITCH and the traditional narrative film style used in ALTERED. The film opens, in fact, with an extreme close-up of Molly, which echoes Heather’s now iconic videotaped confession in BLAIR WITCH.

Molly looks panicked and strung out, or panicked and exhausted, and she says: “Whatever happened, it wasn’t me.” She holds a knife to her own throat for a few tense seconds, before bringing it down and saying “It won’t let me do it.”

Now we’re at Molly and Tim’s wedding, another hand-held shot, and the camera picks up a young boy who looks stuffed into a suit. He walks directly at the camera with a smile completely juxtaposed after the clip we just saw, and as the camera zooms in on the kid’s mouth he whispers “I’m hungry.” We watch snippets of a wedding, picking up little bits here and there. Tim is dissed by one of Molly’s young relatives. One of Molly’s uncles offers a toast to his brother Ben and and his wife Tammy (Molly’s parents): “Who I know are looking down on us right now, and watching their little girl start her new life with her new husband.” You also see the maid of honor giving a tearful apology for any times she let the bride down, while Molly dismisses her apology with a smile and a shake of her head. This last is such a quick exchange you just know it’s going to be important later.

After the credits roll, we put the hand-held away. It’s late at night and shadows are used very well to portray a house in isolation, surrounded by forest without a streetlight to be seen. The security alarm goes off. Molly and Tim jolt out of bed. Tim fiddles with the alarm and it takes him a few tries to get the thing to shut off. There’s a problem at the kitchen door. They creep out to the head of the stairs, hearing something bumping around downstairs. They freak and bolt themselves in their bedroom to await the cops. After a walk through reveals nothing, we rejoin them the next morning, Molly’s birthday. Tim, who drives a truck, is leaving on a job. He’ll be back in a few days. Molly is not at all happy about this. We watch her locking up the house that night, and when she reaches the kitchen door that set the alarm off, it crashes in its frame as if it’s been kicked by a horse. Molly calls the police again and is assured that the house had been vacant long enough that kids must be using the property as a place to hang out. “They’ll stop coming around after a while,” is the most comfort he offers her.

The next night, sounds of a crying child come from inside the house. Molly searches, finally opening the closet in a spare bedroom. She stares. Smiles. Reaches inside.

Next morning, Tim returns. It’s daylight. He calls, and Molly doesn’t answer. He searches the house, and is shocked to find her sitting in the spare room, facing the closet, absolutely naked. He talks to her as he creeps closer and finally sits beside her, and she seems oblivious to his presence, until finally her eyes focus and she turns to him.

“He’s alive,” she says.

Not at all the ‘Welcome home!”Tim was expecting.

LOVELY MOLLY is a horror movie of the “Is she crazy, is she possessed, or is she truly haunted?” trope. There are a lot of possible answers presented here. Molly has a history of mental illness and drug use. She’s spending much of her time alone in the house she grew up in; a house where horrible things happened to her. There are images of horses, and at one point you can hear horse hooves clopping outside the bedroom door late at night. There’s a co-worker of Molly’s who lives with her two small children in a house through the woods, and Molly occasionally sneaks over to film them on her hand-held video camera—that is, when she’s not using the camera to film empty corners as she screams for something, or someone, to show itself. There are hints that she’s possessed by an evil spirit. Through it all, you wonder how all these strands will tie together into a cohesive whole.

Eduardo Sanchez has a firm grasp of what keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. He uses our fears of the dark, of death, of solitude, of other people, to masterful effect here. Most importantly, he capitalizes on what Stephen King calls our natural “fear FOR someone else” because Molly is truly likeable. Newcomer Gretchen Lodge puts forth a tremendous performance here, inhabiting Molly completely in all her permutations of emotion. If the right Hollywood people see this film, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Gretchen in years to come.

Gretchen Lodge as LOVELY MOLLY.

In fact, all the performers have come with their A-games. Alexandra Holden (Maggie in 2006’s SPECIAL) plays Molly’s sister, Hannah. From her tearful confession in the wedding video at the start of the film, you can see Hannah’s concern grow even as she becomes more and more concerned for her own safety. Field Blauvelt (THE INVASION,  2007) plays Pastor Bobby perfectly, nailing that character with every move, every smile, every downcast eye.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” in SONS OF ANARCHY) shines as Tim, deeply in love with Molly but without a clue as to how to help her. It’s mentioned that they don’t have the health insurance to get her the attention she really needs. I wish I was comfortable saying this is the reason he and Hannah make such piss-poor decisions, but honestly it felt like the decisions they made were the ones the writers needed them to make to have the story move the way they wanted.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” on SONS OF ANARCHY) plays Tim in LOVELY MOLLY.

There are simply too many questions brought up during the course of the movie to answer all of them in a way that feels satisfying. It felt like Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash wrote the screenplay while keeping their shooting budget in the forefront of their minds. It seemed like any aspect that threatened to exceed what they could pay for was dropped without another glance. The movie could’ve used a far less restrictive writing process. I think it would’ve been better for them to just cut loose and write whatever the story dictated, and then edit it down to meet the budget later. There are a couple of instances where the plot felt out-of-control, as if even the director didn’t understand why things were happening.

These drawbacks were relatively small, though. In all, LOVELY MOLLY is a very tense film that keeps you guessing throughout. It’s the kind of movie you don’t finish and forget about. This one will keep you thinking long after your media center powers down. It may even draw you back to watch it again.

I give it three stars with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon


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