Review: Lovely Molly (directed by Eduardo Sanchez)

Lovely Molly (directed by Eduardo Sanchez)
7 10

PLOT: A recovering drug addict newlywed with a history of psychiatric trauma moves in to her childhood home where her father was killed. As her sanity slowly starts to slip, her husband and sister do all they can to help.

REVIEW: LOVELY MOLLY, the fifth feature from Eduardo Sanchez, comes 13 years after the man broke the economic mold with a new visual subgenre in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I mention that because, as the found-footage format has flourished greatly in the interim, Sanchez part and parcel returns to the technique in his new film about the mysterious overtaking of a young woman's troubled spirit. Furthermore, he's back to working on a shoestring...a hand-held million dollar movie bereft of above and below the line stars. As a movie (not a gimmicky event), I liked LOVELY MOLLY far more than BLAIR WITCH, and would argue if Sanchez eschewed every scent of his trademark hit, the film as a whole would be that much stronger.

In a technical motif stitched throughout, the film opens with a direct address to a home video recorder. We meet Molly (Gretchen Lodge), febrile, with a knife to her own throat, claiming she's powerless to the horrors that may come. We then flashback a few days, away from the camcorder, meeting the titular protagonist's new hubby Tim (Johnny Lewis), as the couple settles into their new abode. Thing is, it's Molly's childhood home, the same place where her father was unceremoniously murdered a short time before. A dubious choice of housing to be sure, but in the poor girl's volatile state we come to understand later, it's best not to upset her any further. But upset is exactly what results when paranormal harbingers and eerie things of the supernatural increasingly go bump in the night. Is Molly merely projecting a schizoid reality through paranoid hallucination? Are these ghastly possessions really happening? Could it possibly be both?

What I dug most about LOVELY MOLLY, what I also happen to believe is the strongest quality of the film, is its engaging ambiguity regarding Molly's gradual torment, and the revelatory payoff of the film's final shot. By deftly painting the girl with a history of mental imbalance, drug addiction and the like, Sanchez creates a character driven mystery that doesn't cop out with an abruptly lazy or noncommittal stance on his story. And let's face, we get way too many of those types of ending these days. Jeff Nichols' TAKE SHELTER, for example, a better, more nuanced film as a whole, had this problem with its conclusion. Sanchez doesn't straddle the fence with his ending, which is not only appreciated, but narratively satisfying after investing some 100 minutes with this ever unraveling character. Whether or not you agree with the ultimate answer is one thing, but at least there is a clear-cut answer given. It just so happens the interpretation is also a genuinely chilling one.

In terms of the technical, I've come to examine a film trough the scope of its resources. LOVELY MOLLY uses its shoestring budget to foster a hand-held documentary feel...an intimacy and immediacy is established early on, be it trough the general verite style or Molly's own video footage. The atmosphere is aptly foreboding, creaky doors and flickering light in no short order, a spooky subterranean set-piece or two of note. Of course none of these facets are rendered believable without good acting, and for the most part, solid marks go out to the entire cast. Gretchen Lodge shines as a woman towing the line between insanity and demonic possession, her nuance and range allow us to believe she's wracked by either.

But in the end I found myself questioning why the whole camcorder angle was incorporated in the first place. We're continually met with footage of Molly recording her strange activity...be it in the house, out in the woods, whenever she's "not in control." Upon rumination, I can only assume the device was used as A). an excuse for Sanchez to play to his audience, in essence recreating the visual motif from the movie that made him a success, and/or B). a manipulative way to justify a grisly consequence in the last act of the film (which I won't spoil). I can see how that would make sense to Sanchez going in, but as an audience, unless I missed something entirely, it just seemed a bit superfluous. It would have for any filmmaker, but given THE BLAIR WITCH, in retrospect it feels cheaply extraneous. Without that conceit, I'm pretty confident most of what makes the film terrifying would remain intact.

So, given its dearth of resources - above and below the line - LOVELY MOLLY did more than enough to hold my interest, and in so doing actually lent an authentic chill or two. The mystery surrounding what's really behind Molly's psychological breakdown is fascinating to follow, and as the enigma slowly unravels, we're in no short order treated to barrage of grisly mayhem. My only real problem with the film (aside from Molly never simply moving out of the troubled house) is as much technical as it is narrative. By returning to the camcorder device, in effect playing in his wheelhouse, Sanchez calls too much attention to his past (BLAIR WITCH), which somewhat hampers the germinated freshness of this particular story. Still, for any movie made for a mere million, LOVELY MOLLY is certainly a cut above.

Extra Tidbit: The film comes out this Friday on May 18 2012.



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