There’s a regrettable tendency among filmmakers, even ones whose name is not Ti West, to confuse “slow build-up” with “exactly jack shit happens until the last ten minutes of this movie, when all of a sudden there is running and screaming.” Those filmmakers should, as penance for the hours of tedium they inflict on the moviegoing public, be forced to sit down with a notebook and pen and watch Lovely Molly over and over until they can prove that they’ve learned something.
Now, on a certain level, no one is more surprised that I’m saying that than I am; because Lovely Molly was written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who is best known for the granddaddy of all jack-shit-happens movies, The Blair Witch Project. I don’t know what he’s been doing in between the two movies, but by God, he’s been learning things. Lovely Molly is both a more mature movie than Blair Witch Project and a more effective one; not as groundbreaking, but Sánchez is nonetheless the first director since, well, himself, to move the found-footage conceit forward in terms of its function in the movie. Here, it’s more than just a gimmick – the home-shot video is integrated into the film in a way that’s purposeful and laden with meaning, not to mention creepiness. I’m not usually one to haul out the liner notes and start pontificating on the arc of a filmmaker’s career, but when you draw a line from Blair Witch Project to Lovely Molly, it’s clear that Sánchez has cruised miles down that road in the right direction.
Newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) move into her childhood home after her father’s death. That never seems like a good idea to begin with, but it’s worse here. Creepy things start happening, like the alarm going off in the middle of the night and the back door standing wide open. Molly, alone in the house while Tim is away driving his truck, hears a child crying in a closet; she also takes to wandering around outside in the woods with a night-vision camcorder, humming creepily. As the scariness of the house ramps up, Molly’s sanity starts to break down, and her history of drug abuse and mental illness comes to light, as well as a history of horrific abuse. By halfway through the movie, it’s hard to tell which is scarier – the house and the weird things happening in it, or Molly herself.
Lodge, a newcomer to film, does wonders in a role that requires her to retain the audience’s sympathy while engaging in a series of increasingly batshit insane behaviors. Alexandra Holden is also amazing as Molly’s long-suffering sister, who desperately wants to help her but has no clue even where to begin. Lewis isn’t in the movie all that much, but considering that not long ago he (apparently) murdered his landlady and then killed himself during a psychotic episode, possibly the less said about him the better.
The movie has one of those open, let-the-audience-decide endings that, again, are murderously difficult to do well. I think Sánchez pulled it off, but I know others disagree. Agree or disagree, though, I think it’s clear that he at least knew what he was about, as opposed to movies that really look like they end because the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner and gave up. The question that remains when the movie is over is what exactly happened. Was Molly possessed? Was the house haunted? Or did she just fall through the ice into a spiral of addiction, mental illness, and paranoia? I have an opinion on that. You’ll have to watch and figure out what yours is.
So what’s the verdict? Four stars. Okay, it’s a low four stars, right on the three-star border. But Lovely Molly made me think, which horror movies rarely even attempt to do; it did a number of very difficult things well, including a number of things that could have been done lazily, and days later I’m still thinking about it. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a movie that’s creepy, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, and never boring despite the slow pace, this one’s for you.