There’s a pleasing cyclical neatness to Lovely Molly.
13 years ago Eduardo Sánchez created the first truly 21st Century horror movie a few months early with 1999’s bowel-loosening The Blair Witch Project, ushering in the age of the voyeuristic, viral fightfest that took the audience way beyond its comfort zone and into the swirling wilds of genuine anxiety, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, our world in the stalls and the world of terrors unfolding on the big screen.
Conversely, Lovely Molly, the writer/director’s sixth film, is like Ti West‘s The Innkeepers or James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s Insidious, a model of Seventies/early Eighties supernatural horror, one with an eye to Roman Polansky’s Rosemary’s Baby and Sidney J Furie’s The Entity. Like the best films of the era, the focus is less on jump scares and murky figures in your periphery, but on the emotional journey of the lead – in this case, a nail-pullingly intense newcomer Gretchen Lodge – as she undergoes a breakdown either supernatural or psychological in origin, the ambiguity played up right until the final third.
Until that moment we’re shown nothing otherworldly, just the increasingly unstable, and eventually life-threatening behaviour of Molly.
A recovering addict left alone in the dank stone house her parents died in by her husband, a long haul trucker, Molly seems increasingly haunted by the spectral presence of her abuse father, rendered through rattling door handles and the sound of approaching hooves – none of which can be seen by exasperated husband Tim (Sons Of Anarchy‘s Johnny Lewis), secretive sister Hannah (romcom favourite Alexandra Holden) or leery local pastor Samuels (Men In Black 3‘s Ken Arnold).
Opening with a spot of found footage – a sly wink and nod from Sánchez – in which Molly tearfully alludes to something terrible unfolding – the ensuing narrative dips in and out, the camera a mere device to bring the audience into the film, and not to constrain it in a tiresome gimmick straightjacket.
Eduardo Sánchez profoundly changed the genre just before creators started to be directly rewarded for doing so – look to Saw‘s James Wan and Leigh Whannell, Cabin Fever‘s Eli Roth and Paranormal Activity‘s Oren Peli for the rich reward system of future projects studios now gratefully dish out to make sure their top players keep the megabucks rolling in.
It’s perhaps more rewarding then, that on the outside of this system, and without and major studio back rubs to keep him going, Eduardo Sánchez has produced his best film yet – a collusion of traditional suspense values, powerfully uncomfortable performances, old school in-camera effects and his trademarked ambiguity, creating a discomforting experience which sticks with you long after the lights go out.