DVD Review: Lovely Molly
Review by Nia Edwards-Behi
Lovely Molly was not the film I expected it to be. I purposefully avoided reading too much detail about it, as I often do, but I was expecting a tale of a haunted house, or of a woman’s possession. That’s not what I got. The film’s got ghosts and demons, in a way, but this is not your typical ghost story. Happy newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) start their new life together by moving into Molly’s old family home. Tim, a trucker, spends long periods of time on the road. Often left alone, Molly finds herself facing an unbearable forces from her past in the old house, and contending with such forces alone soon drives her and those around her to dark, dark places.
My heart initially sank somewhat to see the first few sequences are shot on a camcorder, but the way the device is used through the rest of the film is integrated with the narrative and used to good effect. The way in which Lovely Molly plays with familiar tropes but in a more or less completely uncliched way is by far the film’s main strength. Primarily this is seen in the treatment of the house itself, and in the characters. There’s a certain tendency in horror films set in houses to come across as being a bit overly-obsessed with affluence. Large, well-decorated properties creak and moan and are crept around in a way that verges on the uniform. There’s something nice about the house in Lovely Molly, in that yes, it is quite big, but it’s incredibly well-designed to look like a former family home. The decor is all out of time and out of place, down to the bedding. Molly works as a cleaner, while Tim is off driving trucks, so there’s none of that ‘I need to stay at home and work on my music/novel/painting while you work, dear’ that can be found in such films. Likewise, the characters are well-developed without being bogged down by exposition. Molly and Tim are clearly a happy and caring couple at the start of the film. They’re not twee, though, and these are flawed characters: Molly over-reacts a little when Tim has to work on her birthday, and Tim might be a little insensitive. They make up, though, and there’s no melodramatic argument between them.
Even as things get worse for Molly, the characters are refreshlingly uncliched. The husband stands by her, the pastor doesn’t take advantage of her deranged come-ons, her sister is desperately supportive. For a film in which the horror is potentially wholly un-supernatural, that the characters aren’t cutouts from every other domestic horror film is vital to Lovely Molly being incredibly engaging. You care for the people around Molly as much for Molly herself. The performances are excellent, with Gretchen Lodge wholly convincing as a normal woman haunted and cowed by demons literal and otherwise. Alexandra Holden is worth a mention too as Molly’s sister Hannah, central to the childhood that haunts them both and yet unable to offer the help she wants to give her sister.
This backstory that is, essentially, the ghost or monster of the film, is delightfully ambiguous. It’s never revealed outright what has happened in Molly’s childhood and this perhaps works for the best – the horror she has already experienced is never heavy-handed, as so often can be the case. The new terror that Molly experiences is pleasantly free of jump-scares (though there is one great one) and musical stingers. Rather, Sanchez successfully creates a creeping tension, whereby the more we learn about Molly the more we worry for her, for what’s happening to her, and for what might happen to the people around her. There are some great Kubrickian shots that follow Molly around where she works, or as she wanders aimlessly once she’s fired. The ambiguity of what has happened or what is happening to Molly is helped along by the many sequences where we don’t see her face.
There is a point in the film, however, where this brilliantly refreshing film starts to slip slightly into more familiar territory. The husband experiences a moment of weakness. The pastor is tempted (and punished). These moments don’t ruin the film, by any stretch, nor are they mishandled, but because of just how refreshingly good these characters are earlier, that their expected falls from grace do happen almost seems a shame. Similarly, the very ending of the film feels jarringly typical, by comparison to the rest of the film. Again, this isn’t enough to ruin the experience of the film as a whole, but rather a misstep that feels like one scene too many after the climactic action. The violence in the film is thankfully restrained, with Molly’s first act of violence being grossly effective, turning what appears to be a sweet moment of reconciliation into something else entirely. From that moment on the film descends into the madness and depravity that has threatened to emerge through the rest of the preceding action. There is a truly horrific moment in which Molly commits a horrendous act of violence, but seems to be completely and utterly not in control of her actions. This is played so subtly by Gretchen Lodge that it really stands out.
There’s much more to be said about Lovely Molly – about its themes, its intricacies – but I don’t want to discuss them in this sort of a review. It’s a film that deserves to be seen without preconceptions or expectations, but likewise it’s a film I know I’m looking forward to seeing again, and even again, for a full dissection of just what happens to Molly.
Lovely Molly is out now on Region 2 DVD from Metrodome.