There’s an intriguing ambiguity to Lovely Molly, a new film from Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sánchez. Are the creaks and whispers in the old house in which it’s based made by ghosts, or are they all figments of its lovely title character? More to the point, can Lovely Molly even be classed as a supernatural movie?
The facts of the story are these. Newlywed couple Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) have just moved into a generously proportioned house in the country, where a happy future should theoretically await. Unfortunately, the house used to belong to Molly’s late father, who still stares shiftily from black and white photos hanging on the wall, and there are hints that a remnant of this sinister-looking man may still be lurking somewhere in the building.
Gradually, Molly and Tim’s wedded bliss ebbs away as the ghostly occurrences flood in. Locked doors mysteriously open and trigger burglar alarms. Sobs and murmurs trickle up creaking stairs in the dead of night. And as demons from her past return, Molly’s sanity begins to unravel.
Both Tim and her older sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden), it seems, are powerless to prevent Molly’s descent into paranoia, drugs and general depravity. Disturbing details from Molly and Hannah’s past emerge, and the mystery surrounding the house deepens. What are those strange symbols on the garage wall? Why is Molly sneaking around in the woods with a camcorder after the witching hour?
From its opening shot – an ominous address to camera which immediately (and probably deliberately) references a famous scene in Blair Witch – Sánchez gamely plays around with genre expectations and filmmaking styles. Although the first five or so minutes hint at a found footage chiller along the lines of Paranormal Activity, it comes as something of a relief when Sánchez abruptly switches back to a more conventional style of camerawork. Snippets of handy cam footage are sporadically used throughout, and the way they’re used to create intrigue and suspense is quite unusual, and in some instances, extremely effective.
It has to be said, though, that some viewers may have problem with the ambiguity mentioned at the top of this review. Although the rattling doors and whispers might suggest that Lovely Molly’s a conventional haunted house movie in the Amityville Horror mode, the film fits more easily into the psychological drama genre.
In this regard, Lovely Molly’s extremely well acted. Newcomer Gretchen Lodge is excellent, and her slow degeneration, from an apparently normal young woman into a listless, decidedly creepy dweller of walk-in closets, is subtly handled.
Sánchez’s refusal to hint at the supernatural rather than show it outright may infuriate some, while others may be irked by Lovely Molly’s slow pace. Those with enough patience to stick with the film through its build-up, however, will be rewarded with an eerie pay-off; this isn’t a scary movie in a conventional sense, but it is disturbing, and there are moments that really get under your skin.
Unfortunately, not everything in Lovely Molly works. Its somewhat formless plot structure and somnambulant pace makes its 90-minute duration seem much longer than it is, and it could be argued that Sánchez stretches his genre ambiguity out a little too far, serving up a conclusion which leaves too many plot threads dangling to truly satisfy.
But viewed as a psychological drama – one that touches on such gloomy topics as trauma, abuse, addiction, guilt and mental illness with surprising maturity – Lovely Molly is cautiously recommendable. Its house of unholy smells and nasty secrets vaguely recalls the work of HP Lovecraft, whose fiction often contained characters wracked with guilt and haunted by murky family histories.
Lovely Molly is far from perfect, but for genre fans willing to watch without preconceptions, there are enough shudder-inducing scenes and decent performances to make it just about worth a trip to the cinema.
Lovely Molly is out in UK cinemas today.