Review: 'Lovely Molly'

By: Heather Seebach

Maryland staked its claim in the horror industry in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project, the wildly successful indie film that popularized the found footage sub-genre (for better or for worse). Co-director Eduardo Sánchez has returned to the bleak woods of Western Maryland with his latest psychological thriller, Lovely Molly. While the new film utilizes a partial documentary style, it is a far cry from the shaky cam chaos of Blair Witch. With a tight narrative, handsome cinematography, and ever-building dread, Molly is a mature homecoming with layers more disturbing than the average possession/haunting film.

When newlyweds Tim and Molly move into her family's old home, unsettling occurrences begin almost immediately. While Tim is away on business, Molly is left alone in the house, haunted by unexplainable sights and sounds. Much to the concern of her husband and sister, Molly begins to lose touch with reality - but is this mental illness, or something more sinister inside the house?

That synopsis only scratches the surface, but such ambiguity is essential to fully enjoy Lovely Molly. Unfortunately, such vague statements and misleading marketing give the impression that this is another haunted house thriller with that predictable twist ending - you know the one. What makes Molly unique is that it explores the gap between possession and psychosis rather than lay it all out for the viewer. If you prefer being gradually unnerved rather than have a twist sprung on you, you are looking in the right place.

Despite its low budget, Molly looks fantastic. Camcorder footage is incorporated with restraint and common sense, while the rest of the film is very well-shot. The script, penned by Sánchez and Jamie Nash, is structured and paced just right. The story is focused more on psychological terror than gore, but what horror FX it has are simple and effective. Upon seeing the film, see if you can figure out what they used the "butt smasher" device for.

There are some genuinely creepy scares, most of which are attributable to what is perhaps the films strongest aspect - its sound design. If you can see this film in a theater, do so, if only for the surround-sound. Horror staples like whispers, slamming doors, and footsteps still manage to be terrifying thanks to stellar sound editing.

All the leading actors are great, including Johnny Lewis (Sons of Anarchy) as Tim the sympathetic husband, and Alexandra Holden (Dead End) as Hannah, the sister struggling with Molly's descent into madness. And one cannot say enough in praise of Gretchen Lodge, who makes her screen debut here as the equally-lovable and terrifying Molly. The first-time film actress gives everything to this role and it pays off immensely.

Molly puts a fresh spin on the possession/haunting sub-genre by exploring much deeper issues (e.g. drug addiction; mental illness; child abuse). It carefully walks the line between supernatural and psychological thriller. Depending on your perspective - personally, morally, religiously - the film could easily be viewed as two very different series of events. 

Do not be fooled by any advertising which may belie what Lovely Molly has to offer. On the exterior is a possession film in the vein of The Exorcist but beneath the surface lies a disturbing drama, amplified by a pervasive feeling of unease and Lodge's intense leading performance. 

out of 5 
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