As a general rule, the best thing about most horror movies is the build up rather than the pay off; giving audiences the willies over things they don’t know or can’t see always works. It’s when you try to explain why all those things went bump in the night that viewers might scream “bullshit.” That’s definitely true of Lovely Molly, the new horror movie by Eduardo Sanchez who launched the concept of the zero budget blockbuster with The Blair Witch Project over a decade ago and has been toiling indie horror arena since. His latest film is about a possession, or maybe a haunted house, or maybe just a crazy person. Regardless, it works best when you’re trying to figure that out. For the most part, the filmmaker remains ambiguous about the whole thing and that will either be intriguing or frustrating depending on how you feel about films with more questions than answers.
Gretchen Lodge stars as the titular Molly. She’s a newlywed with an unfortunate past that’s often whispered about, but that at least seems behind her. Molly and her fresh husband Tim move into her parent’s old house and whenever Tim disappears for work spooky shenanigans tend to happen. At first it’s simply creepy noises and slamming doors, but then things get more aggressive. Molly starts becoming increasingly distraught from all the spooky stuff and her sister (Johnny Lewis) begins to wonder if Molly has dipped back into her old addictive habits. Then Molly’s acting out seems to become more focused, either the result of the painful memories of an abusive past bubbling to the surface or maybe something is possessing her. Certainly all of those late night naked walks feel like they could go either way.
Lovely Molly takes quite a while to get going and is a bit punishing on the patience in early scenes about the life of Molly and her husband, the world’s most inexplicably beautiful janitor and truck driver. Thankfully boring set ups are kind of a staple of horror movies and audiences reared on the blood-soaked genre know the perfunctory set up needs to be tolerated to get to the good stuff. The mysterious spook outs in the house are natural for Sanchez, playing off his Blair Witch-style subtle scares and even incorporating some of the found footage horror techniques he helped popularize in that movie once Molly starts taping herself and the disturbances to prove she isn’t crazy. It’s not all suggested scares this time though and can be rather graphic, but Sanchez pulls off the harsh scares effectively and tastefully, while Gretchen Lodge does the heavy lifting as an actress. It was her first film and she dives into the role of Molly, fearlessly performing breakdowns, suffering attacks, and stripping bare, often as the only person onscreen. With a lesser actress, the film could have easily been an embarrassment, but Lodge pulls off a physically and emotionally draining role with far more ease and skill than should expected from someone who has never appeared on camera before.
It’s not a perfect, stumbling several times along the way beyond the turgid set up. Subplots involving perverted priests and even just the concept of a haunting being a psychological manifestation of childhood abuse have been done so many times before that it’s hard to get any reaction beyond eye-rolls. The more explanations for the disturbances that Sanchez throws at the audience, the less interesting it all becomes. Thankfully, the story doesn’t quite get wrapped up in a pretty Freudian box as seems inevitable at times. Sanchez does find a way to make the film feel ambiguous by offering several possible solutions to choose from. Lovely Molly is no danger of replacing The Blair Witch Project as the director’s finest or most popular film. However, it at least suggests that he has a few more interesting movies in him beyond that unexpected cult hit/brief cultural phenomenon.