Written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), Lovely Molly comes with a pedrigree and a certain amount of expectation; the trailer claims that the film “re-defines horror”, which is a pretty bold statement to use in a year when The Cabin in the Woods also claimed to do the same thing, and also at a time when films of this nature seem to be getting released almost weekly. So can Lovely Molly do what it promises and give horror a new lease of life?
Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) are a pair of young newlyweds who have moved into Molly’s childhood home after the death of her father. A series of strange events trigger some painful childhood memories for Molly and she starts to believe she is being haunted by the ghost of her father. Tim works as a truck driver and is away from home a lot, so with nobody else at home to help her Molly’s old drugs habit starts to rear its head and she starts to physically and mentally deteriorate in front of her sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden), her Pastor and her boss, but is Molly’s state of mind down to her drug use or are more sinister forces at work?
Although it is steeped in what are fast becoming modern horror clichés (handheld camera shots, staying in the house even though it’s obviously the problem, open-ended climax, etc.) Lovely Molly has a few things going for it, namely some excellent performances from the leads and a wonderfully believable ‘real world’ setting. The film is fairly slow to start giving you what you want but despite the sluggish pace it establishes the characters and their situation very well, and by the time the proverbial starts hitting the fan you really start to feel for Molly. Gretchen Lodge does a superb job as the troubled Molly, a tragic and complex character with a dark past that involves drugs and possible abuse, and has an endearing screen presence reminiscent of a younger Cameron Diaz. Alexandra Holden as Molly’s sister Hannah, who may have some secrets of her own, also does a sterling job as the only person who can offer any sort of help.
As the film moves into its second act the brooding atmosphere is pumped up a little and certain revelations come to light, building in tension and leading to what looks to be a powerful conclusion.
Despite the positives that Lovely Molly has going for it during the first two acts it commits the cardinal sin of modern horror films – the ambiguous ending. And not ambiguous in the same way that, say, John Carpenter’s The Thing has an ambiguous ending, because in that film the events that led to that point were perfectly clear and the ending befitted the overall plot. Here, however, the events that begin to unfold during the second act build to what should have been a knockout conclusion but ultimately nothing ties together and the whole thing falls apart with no satisfactory ending.
It doesn’t end there, though, because if you want to find out just what it was all about you have to go to the special features menu to watch four separate featurettes that focus on what leads Molly to do the things she does, or if you really want to do a bit of research you can go to the website for more of what the film doesn’t give you. Whichever method you choose the end result is still an inconclusive mess that gives you lots of ‘could it be this? Or could it be that?’ questions that never get answered, some horse-related occult imagery that has no grounding or bearing on anything you see or hear in the film and a great deal of frustration at having to seek information elsewhere.
It would be fair to say that this approach to horror filmmaking was a groundbreaking concept when Eduardo Sánchez first did it with The Blair Witch Project back in 1999; the internet wasn’t the all-encompassing, multi-media playground it is now and there was a novelty factor involved that helped with the marketing and ultimately disguised the fact that there was no real story there. In 2012, however, audiences are more savvy to this kind of marketing and although there’s nothing wrong with having to do a little bit of thinking when it comes to making sense of a film, blatantly not having any sort of resolution to so many unanswered questions is inexcusable.
Which is a shame, as Lovely Molly was beginning to look like it would make good on its promise by delivering something terrifying after a slow start. The nods to The Amityville Horror and The Entity are a little too obvious in places but once the meat of the story starts to unfold during the second act the film does start to carve out its own identity, and the strong performances from Gretchen Lodge and Alexandra Holden do carry it very well. It is creepy, there are some truly horrific moments and the seeds are there for a compelling story to be told, but if you have to go elsewhere to find any sort of explanation then logic dictates that the film hasn’t done its job properly.