31 Days of Horror: ‘Lovely Molly’ – a psychological character study masquerading as a haunted house film

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Lovely Molly

Directed by: Eduardo Sanchez

Written by: Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash

2011, USA

Eduardo Sanchez made his name as one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch wasn’t just an indication of his creative talent, but also a true passion, and belief in the idea that the less we see the more effective the horror. The act of visual discretion is admirable because it often balances on a razor’s edge. A director can just as easily lose the audience if ideas are not handled with a deft cleverness and attention to detail. In Lovely Molly, Sanchez continues to practice the ‘less is more’ approach to horror. It creates moments of great terror and suspense, but the approach also creates several moments of muddled sloppiness.

Lovely Molly is a psychological character study masquerading as a haunted house film. We watch the character of Molly, played by Gretchen Lodge, slowly, and violently, bleed out as the wounds of her abusive past are continuously opened. In this film, Sanchez presents some interesting ideas, not entirely new to the horror genre, but given a new perspective.

The idea is Molly, after moving into her childhood home with her husband (Johnny Lewis) is being terrorized by the demonic presence of her dead father. It’s indicated early on that her father was a sick and abusive man that tortured Molly and her sister, but took particular pleasure in his abuse of Molly. What Sanchez attempts with this idea is to play the psychological guessing game with the audience to keep us wondering, along with Molly, whether or not she is being terrorized by the supernatural, or if she is plummeting into madness. It is an idea that many horror films have used effectively, and it very nearly was effective in this case if not for a few hindrances.

For instance, Sanchez uses aspects of the sub-genre where he got his start, found footage, by having Molly carry a camera much of the time. There are several scenes where we see her perspective through the camera. This idea is interesting, but it is often clumsy. No one around Molly is witnessing what she is claiming. There are scenes where she swears to her husband that her dead father is in the very room they stand, and she points the camera in the vacant corner where she claims to see him, but too often we don’t get the camera’s perspective, and when we do there is no one else to see it but Molly. So, we are left to question what we’re seeing even through the objective lens of the camera. What further muddles this is the scene where a security camera at her work catches Molly exhibiting very peculiar behavior. When the footage is presented to Molly by her boss she claims to see her father raping her, but her boss simply sees Molly alone.

One would think the camera would be an uncorrupted eye, free of the suggestions of Molly’s madness and the audience’s imagining of the supernatural. It can only tell the truth. If there is something haunting Molly we’ll see it. But, what we see though it is inconsistent with this idea. Which begs the question, why have scenes through the eye of a camera if its view is as manipulated as Molly’s and the audience’s?

The other notable problem could be seen as either poor editing, or a shoddy script. The problem is with a representation, and use of characters. Personally, I enjoy when a film will simply use characters and ideas as a means to build a mood or atmosphere. Their presence, unaware of the other characters, work as an aura of tension and mystery. Sanchez seems to attempt this, and for most of the film succeeds, until an inexplicable connection is made between them.

We are made to understand that Molly is obsessed with the young daughter of her neighbor, either by psychotically channeling the pedophilic impulses of her father, or because she is possessed by his ghost. This was effective, and rather terrifying.  Even her fixation on the mother adds a general creepiness. However, it appears Sanchez over-thought this aspect. Instead of leaving the mother and little girl as random prey that Molly steadily gets closer too, Sanchez injects Molly’s husband into it. This cheaply misdirects the audience, and gets them asking unnecessary questions.  It bogged down what was a simple and effective idea. It was the addition of plot for plot’s sake. The disturbed mystery as to why Molly stalks the family is tainted by motive. It keeps one foot grounded in an emotion (jealousy) that the audience can better comprehend and explain. It is a sign of someone that is a little unsure of his overall idea, so he gives himself an out.

Overall, Lovely Molly has its merits. It can be a heartbreaking look at someone crumbling under the strain of their past, and a terrifying ghost story. This film may have been miscalculated in areas, but it’s further evidence that Eduardo Sanchez remains one of the more interesting horror directors working today.

– James Merolla

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