Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lovely Molly (Review)



I had admittedly low expectations when I brought home Lovely Molly. While the credentials of being written and directed by Eduardo S├ínchez, the fellow responsible for The Blair Witch Project might seem impressive to some, in all honesty I felt Eduardo's first film a fluke of timing more than an interesting film in its own right. It did, however, spawn an interesting if-not unsatisfying habit of horror films, the “found footage” film that gave Paranormal Activity a chance to shine.

It must be noted that I absolutely despise Paranormal Activity and its sequels...

So, like I said, I went into Lovely Molly with some pretty low expectations, and I think that is exactly how I could appreciate the film as much as I could.

The film is a pretty basic setup-- Molly (played by newcomer Gretchen Lodge ) marries-- which we see in excruciating detail with her clumsy wedding video. This, I admit, made me worried from the start-- was this going to be another found-footage film? If so, how would it mark itself as original in an over-saturated market, even if it is made by the people essentially responsible for said market? Thankfully, this is just a setup, for after the wedding, we return to comfortable, cozy, traditional cinematography.

Call me a traditionalist but I just ... prefer this style very much.

At any rate, Molly and her new husband (Johnny Lewis ) proceed to christen their marriage in Molly's family home. Now, upon retrospect, after what we learn of Molly and her family, it seems a bit outrageous that she flocks to this home, but I suppose one could argue that an inherited home is cheaper than another one, and the newlyweds would want a place to... christen.

What do you mean we're out of strawberries?!
Rather predictably, things start going wrong for the couple. We learn a bit of the history of Molly's family from her sister, played by Alexandra Holden , and we learn that it wasn't a happy one. This is further hinted at when, after their new alarm system proceeds to freak out, a cop mentions that he was at the house a few times, and that it is a good thing Molly doesn't remember.

We also learn that Molly has a lovely habit of being a bit of a junkie, which as things start to go bad for her, she quickly returns to. Heroin seems like such an obviously dumb choice, both in real life and in film, and here... it's... not much of a better choice than it would be in real life.

This is where the film starts to get a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I enjoyed the ambiguity that the introduction of drugs to the traditional haunting setup brings (“is it real or is it just a trip?”) it often belittles a lot of what we see. For example, there is an early 'scare' scene in which Molly hears some admittedly VERY creepy sounds, runs up to her bedroom, and... drops the camera, which we see... show a door opening. Then closing. While the lack of any effect here could make the argument of “man that heroin is bad for you” compelling, it is, at least with this setup, a less interesting way of thinking about the events.

This element isn't completely a missed note, however. Gretchen Lodge's wonderful acting makes the instability that the drugs bring to the table a hefty one-- and we certainly worry about poor Molly's sanity the more it becomes obvious that she's forsaken the concept of being sober.

Indeed, all of the actors deliver wonderful performances. All are believable in their own special way, with the husband's delightful awkwardness to Molly's eccentricities, to the messed up sister, who is just messed up enough to feel real but not quite enough to be unsympathetic. Even the secondary actors, which are often in these type of films absolutely atrocious, deliver on all the notes they should, and not one actor feels fake ... at all. I am actually thoroughly impressed with the director's ability in this regard. Even when reacting to bumps in the night, or an unseen aggressor in a dark hallway, even in moments where the suspension of disbelief is stretched to a thin membrane, that membrane, thanks to the believable performances, never pops.

This is probably something you want to get used to...
she spends a good portion of the flick naked...
I'm not complaining, just warning!
However, there is something the film brings up which is an issue I have with modern horror. That is, notably, the lack of spectacle. There is a tiny bit of spectacle here-- we do have a traditional horror payoff-- but even that is done with almost too much subtlety, to the point where it barely registers. Where films like Insidious have no qualms about showing you what goes bump in the night, films like Paranormal Activity and its ilk tend to overemphasize the audience's imagination by slowly... calmly pulling up on... NOTHING. To a certain degree, this is an interesting phenomenon-- the lack of spectacle is certainly playing in the low-budget filmmaker's favour for one thing, but also the fact that the audiences adore it speaks to the fact that, be as cynical as you want to be, audiences are still very much interested in watching films that demand something of them, in this case, to imagine what all those eerie sounds must be.

And indeed, Lovely Molly's sound design is... absolutely perfect. Spot-on. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the first time I heard the cloven smacks against the basement floor, with the hefty breathing calling out Molly's name, a bit of goosebumps may have surfaced. It was not necessarily that the moment was truly scary-- although it managed to be, in my opinion-- but that the sounds were just so interestingly realistic.

All the creaking, groaning boards in the house didn't hurt either.

But still, I feel a little bit underwhelmed by the visual side of things. As per the cinematography, everything was shot in a very satisfying way in terms of composition and lighting-- there is even a very notable moment where Molly is hiding in the closet filming, and her husband walks in and turns on the light, making himself an odd silhouette for a moment that is almost intimidating. There are no shots that feel wrong visually, for what they are showing.

However, what they are showing is a little too much reality for my tastes. I thoroughly enjoy horror that takes me to another world, is unafraid to show me monsters.

That isn't to say that there are no interesting visuals in the film. There are. I quite liked the humming as Molly takes the camera into the basement, where we see all kinds of very strange artifacts and symbols. And there is a moment near the end-- which I shall not spoil-- in which a more traditional horror pay-off occurs, which absolutely thrilled me to be honest when I saw it. It hit at a perfect moment in the story.

For all my praise, the film wasn't perfect by any stretch-- I felt some plot twists were a little contrived and forced, especially those around the husband, and I felt the film was also oddly aggressive with its sexual imagery, which could either be a pro or a con depending on your preferences-- but for all constructive purposes, the film delivers everything it promises, even if it doesn't deliver with as much flamboyance and monstrous imagery as the horror fan might like.

I would have to give the film a 90%. In all honesty, I feel like everything the film attempts, it delivers-- even if I felt that the film should have attempted more. The characters we meet are believable and sympathetic (which is very thankful in a genre littered by cartoon characters), the chemistry with the cast is undeniable and very real (sometimes a bit uncomfortably so for those that don't like voyeurism-- again this could be a pro depending on the audience), and the bumps in the night prove very, very threatening indeed.

I still can't give it a perfect rating, because there just wasn't... enough spectacle for my tastes, which was a bit of a let-down especially since the film was not terribly shy on the sexual side. This could be a factor of budget-- the film does wear its budget on its sleeve, and I will never fault a film for its budget, especially in the horror genre-- but I would have been more interested in seeing more of the thing that was going bump in the night rather than just hearing it.

But, I must also admit, that is less a failure of the movie, and more personal preference. The lack of spectacle also, to the film's credit, makes the downward spiral of drugs more visceral, as the insane ramblings of poor Molly cannot be justified by anything she's seen, though perhaps we could forgive her knowing what she's heard.

Highly recommended-- although, on a final note, if I were rating this on a DVD level, I'd fail the special features. I feel they attempted too much to market it as another Blair Witch where what made the film interesting to me was how much it toyed with the audience, knowing they expected a found footage film and then shifting gears. This doesn't match with the tone of the film at all, and I was expecting something more along the lines of interviews with the cast and crew, insightful looks at the mythology separate from the film... pretending like the film is real with pseudo-documentaries would work for a found footage film, but this is not one, so its a bit of a mystery why the special features are what they are.

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