I approached The Haunting of Molly Hartley as a sort of challenge – the challenge being whether I could find a way to view the movie that would make it anything other than an eye-sporking waste of nine million hours of my life.
Yeah, I know. You already know how this is going to come out. So did I, and yet.
The thing is, The Haunting of Molly Hartley isn’t a real horror movie. It’s a kids’ movie, a big-screen episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? No functioning adult is going to be scared by this movie unless you live your life in such a hamster-like state of terror that you have to keep smelling salts on hand for when your toast pops up out of the toaster.
Granted, by the time I was the age of this movie’s target audience I’d already cut my horror teeth on films like Halloween and Phantasm. Middle-school me would have chewed this movie into a quivering red mass, horked it back up, and spit on its grave. The point is, it’s not a horror movie, and it’s not made for horror fans. It’s made for girls in their early teens who don’t care what it’s about as long as some hot Mouseketeer flashes his hipbones at the camera, and the soccer moms who have to be persuaded to pay for said teenage girls’ movie tickets.
In short, I went into this movie with really, really low expectations. All I was hoping for was that it would be as entertainingly awful as its second cousin, The Covenant. And I wanted to see if it would work as the horror-movie equivalent of a YA novel.
Molly Hartley starts out with a flashback in which an stunningly badly dressed teenager is killed by her father, who goes off the deep end yelling things like “You’re going to be 18 next week! I won’t let them take you!” Which, given the eventual context, I don’t really understand, but whatever. My kid could be the Antichrist and as long as she was well and happy I’d just be like, “Have a good day ruling the world, sweetheart! If you need me to stab any religious fanatics for you, just call!”
Cut to the present day, where Molly (Haley Bennet, who manages an impressive zero-to-strangleworthy time of thirty screen seconds flat) is starting a new school. Immediately she attracts the attention of the resident Hipbones Guy, Joseph (Chace Crawford), earning her the ire of Joseph’s girlfriend (AnnaLynne McCord), whose hair must be seen to be believed. Also, the girl assigned to show her around is the resident Jesus freak, Alexis (Shanna Collins, the only effective part of the movie). At this point Molly has nearly racked up enough FML points to warrant that perpetual surly pout, but not quite. She still needs a house to fall on her sister or something.
It turns out that hearing the name of the Lord gives Molly migraines. (This is the point where Dean Winchester should show up with the holy water and dispatch her back to Hell, but sadly he does not.) Also, her mother tried to stab her to death and is now locked up in an asylum. And Molly gets nosebleeds and hears voices. A sinus tumor nearly changes the genre from horror to disease-of-the-week without missing a beat, but sadly, not permanently.
In between endless scenes of high school drama featuring Molly’s Difficult Friend Choices and the Epic Love Triangle of Molly, Hipbones Guy, and Mall Hair Chick, we find out that Molly was stillborn or something, and her mother made a deal with the devil such that Molly would live but then become Satan’s at age 18. Really you ought to adopt if you object to that sort of thing, but people always seem to be selling their kids to Satan and then wishing they hadn’t afterward. And now, of course, the entire cast is in a vast conspiracy to help Molly fulfill her demonic potential.
So does Molly Hartley work as a Lifetime-style YA movie? Sadly enough, the answer is probably yes, for a certain type of teenage girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie hit the “I am so special and unique and no one understands my paaaaaaiiiin except That One Hot Guy Who Finds Me Irresistible so I am totally justified in being as sullen and intolerable a pain in the ass as I want” message so hard and so relentlessly. (No, I haven’t seen Twilight.) That’s probably at least part of why it got such awful reviews – I challenge any adult over legal drinking age to make it through this movie without wanting to beat Molly with a tire iron.
So what’s the verdict? I’m grudgingly giving it one one star, because I think it does a reasonable job of accomplishing what it sets out to do, which is two hours of wish-fulfillment for bitchy teenage girls. I’m just sorry the writers chose horror as the genre of choice for accomplishing it.
Does that mean it’s not a bad movie? Hell, no. It’s an awful movie. It’s not even as entertainingly awful as The Covenant – it’s just irritating and tedious. For god’s sake, do not see this movie if you’re over fifteen years old. Do not even let your kids bully you into sitting in the same room with it.
By the way, there are 16 jump scares in this movie, including the ghost-in-the-mirror and killer-coming-back-to-life scares. I counted. You’re welcome.