Written & Directed By: Eduardo Sanchez
Media Reviewed: Preview screening
Destined to live forever in the shadow of The Blair Witch Project (1999), Eduardo Sanchez has delivered a very effective riff on the old haunted house tale with only marginal use of handheld camera footage. Lovely Molly is Sanchez’s first full length film since the disappointing Chinese ghost story Seventh Moon (2008) and (barring a few missteps) should help him break free from the “found footage” stigma.
Following our introduction to Molly (Gretchen Lodge) (via video camera footage of her unsuccessful suicide attempt) we are taken back several months to her wedding day and introduced to her new husband Tim (Johnny Lewis) and her older sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden). The newlyweds move into Molly’s childhood home, an ominous dusty grey house in the countryside. The characters are not fleshed out immediately, we are given more information about them as we need it like Tim’s job as a truck driver (keeping him out of town much of the time), Molly’s job with mall cleaning personnel and her former problems with heroin addiction. The “less is more” approach that Sanchez based Blair Witch on is used to great organic effect in Lovely Molly and makes us feel that we are a fly on the wall watching the events unfold rather than being told a story.
As the hauntings get worse so too does Molly’s ability to maintain her sanity. Tim returns home to find her naked and catatonic in her childhood bedroom. She slips back into heroin use which gives Tim and Hannah the perfect excuse for her increasingly erratic behaviour. In an attempt to prove that she is not crazy, Molly attempts to record the events with a video camera, of course coming up with nothing. We’re also shown footage of strange symbols in a cellar beneath the shed, late night prowling through the woods and peeping in on an unnamed neighbouring family. The date stamp on the footage gives us a sense of the short timeline of events as the video camera becomes both Molly’s diary and confessional.
We learn fairly quickly that the likely haunter is Molly and Hannah’s father who sexually abused Molly when she was a child. The ghost seems determined to continue the abuse from beyond the grave and even follows Molly to work. As she unravels, Molly alternates between victim and aggressor as the evil spirit takes over; she pleads to Tim for help and then attempts to seduce the local pastor.
The performances in Lovely Molly are a bit uneven but the atmosphere and sound design make up for it, firmly keeping us in the story. A small quibble I had with the otherwise brilliant score by Tortoise was the regular use of incredibly piercing high frequency tones during most of the “scary” parts, I assume they were used to create tension in the audience but they became increasingly grating as the film went on, which, I suppose, may have been the intention. The ending was a little bit of a letdown and includes an unnecessary reveal but is suitably bleak and leaves us wanting more in the best possible way. Sanchez has finally risen above his “one-hit-wonder” status and I look forward to his next effort, I just hope this time we won’t have to wait more than a decade.