Lovely Molly (Eduardo Sánchez, 2011)
In most years, Lovely Molly, the newest film from Eduardo Sánchez, half the directorial team that birthed, kicking and screaming, the shakycam-horror genre in 1999's The Blair Witch Project, would probably be a standout horror film. But shakycam really, really took off, and not only has it not yet collapsed in on its own faddishness, it actually got even more popular in 2008 after wunderkind director J. J. Abrams hopped on the shakycam tourbus with Cloverfield. (I have to admit--even I liked Cloverfield, and I made it through all of five minutes of one mind-numbingly boring episode of Lost before deciding poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick seemed like more fun. I still have the scar.) Sánchez' follow-up flicks have proven less interesting than his debut, but Lovely Molly--while being a workmanlike film from a technical level--at least shows that Sánchez has regained some of that eye for subtle detail that made Blair Witch, love it or hate it, an unforgettable experience.
Lovely Molly is basically Sánchez' update of Franklin Schaffner's 1980 creep-classic The Entity (with one wonderful, if eminently frustrating, grace note of John Carpenter's over-the-top Satanic Panic cheesefest Prince of Darkness; you'll instantly know it when you see it), though Sánchez and co-writer Jamie Nash, who's been partnering Sánchez since 2006's Altered, add in the question of whether Molly (Gretchen Lodge in her feature debut) is actually being haunted, or whether she's just nuts. (More on this later.) Molly, it turns out, has a rather dark background, but, in one of those classic stupid-people-making-stupid-decisions horror movie quirks, decides to move back into the abandoned family homestead with new hubby Tim (the late Johnny Lewis, best known for Sons of Anarchy), a long-distance truck driver who's away a lot. Thus Molly, in recovery from a nasty heroin habit and a spell in the local loony bin, leans on her sister Hannah (How to Deal's Alexandra Holden) for support. But "support" from the human world might not cut it--it looks as if the creature that haunted her after her mother's death may be back, and with bells on. But here's the question--is Molly actually being haunted, or has she always just had, shall we say, a casual relationship with reality?
It's not a bad question to ask, save two problems that keep rearing their ugly heads: 1. by positing that the haunting may in fact be in the mind of the main character, the writers made the movie more standard than it would otherwise have been; in fact, one of the things that made The Entity so surprising is that, aside from the professional skeptics in the film, pretty much everyone was onboard from day one with the fact that Barbara Hershey was being repeatedly raped by a ghost, and 2. the writers didn't do much of anything to disguise the fact that, despite inserting some very clever (if obvious) red herrings to point to the other conclusion, they know the answer, and they're all too eager to share it with you. (Just in case you don't get it, they throw in a completely gratuitous--but eerily effective, in a delayed-reaction kind of way--coda to the film that removes most of the ambiguity. But not quite all of it.)
However, and with the understanding that I'm going to still be rating this movie as "just slightly above average", the bottom line is that despite its problems, it's brutally effective. This is partially a result of its subject matter--supernatural-entity-rape is kind of a shortcut straight into "disturbing" in lizard-brain. But it also has to do with Gretchen Lodge's performance, which is just as distressing as Barbara Hershey's thirty-two years ago. She pulls this off, and she pulls it off well. There's more to it than that, of course; Sánchez pulls out all the "get the audience to identify with the main character" stops here, from making the family blue-collar-on-the-verge-of-poverty (Molly herself is a janitor at a big-box store) to casting an attractive-but-unconventionally-so actress (as good an actress as she may be, I can't imagine someone as conventionally glamorous as, say, Emma Stone pulling this off, because you will not be able to get past the fact that you're watching Emma Stone). And while I can't get into it without going into major spoiler territory, one of the movie's most effective disturbing scenes is entirely non-paranormal, and that's entirely down to Lodge's acting. While the movie starts off slow, and it overplays its hand more often than not, if you're in the mood for something that's more creepy than slasher-flick-y, turn out the lights and dial this one up. ***