It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost fifteen years since Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick burst onto the scene with The Blair Witch Project. Love it or hate it, TBWP scared the bejesus out of millions back in 1999, and singlehandedly ushered in the phenomenon known as the “found footage film” (even though Ruggero Deodato partly used the gimmick nearly two decades earlier in his Cannibal Holocaust). At the time, this looked to be the start of something big for the young filmmaking duo, yet, despite TBWP’s massive success, Sánchez and Myrick’s respective careers never quite took off as one would have expected. Yes, the pair continued to make films (separately and under their Hexen Films imprint), but, save for the unfairly maligned sequel, The Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, none of their projects have seen even a fraction of the success as their debut. Of course, none of said films have been all that good, either; at least, not until now.
With Lovely Molly, writer/director Sánchez proves that his debut wasn’t a fluke, as he cobbles together the harrowing tale of a young bride’s emotional and physical torment at the hands of an unseen protagonist. Using both traditional narrative, as well as a healthy dose of the found footage vérité style that he helped popularize, Lovely Molly is, quite simply, one of the most quietly creepy and disturbing films I’ve seen this year.
Molly (Gretchen Lodge) - a recovering heroin addict who is still in the fragile early months of sobriety - and Tim (Johnny Lewis) are young newlyweds who settle into Molly’s rural childhood home. We get the impression that this place holds a lot of bad memories for Molly, but, at the same time, it’s also quite apparent that the couple can’t afford to live anywhere else, with Molly working as a cleaning woman in the local mall, and Tim working part time as a truck driver.
For the first few months, things are relatively calm, but, after a scary incident in which the house’s alarm is triggered in the middle of the night, Molly begins to see and hear things relating to her past. She turns to her sister, Hannah (Alexandra Holden) for support, but, ultimately, the stresses of living in the house get the better of her, and Molly begins to use again. Convinced that she’s being haunted by the specter of their deceased father, Molly begins to videotape her experiences in the house, but, as she grows more detached, she also starts to develop an unhealthy fixation on a neighboring family and their young daughter. While Tim and Hannah do what they can to try and bring her back from the edge, it becomes increasingly apparent that that a demon from her past has taken a firm hold on Molly, and has no intentions of letting her go.
Powered by a tour de force performance by newcomer, Gretchen Lodge, Lovely Molly is a haunting, riveting psychological horror film that combines supernatural scares with the very real terrors of mental illness and drug addiction. The film’s pacing is rather deliberate, but it heightens the sense of dread and keeps the viewer in a constant state of unease, while Sánchez’ direction, with lots of lingering shots of long hallways and shadowy rooms, fosters an almost unbearable sense of tension at times. If I have any gripes with the film it’s with its somewhat open-ended dénouement (a regular occurrence in Sánchez’ films, it seems). I don’t require that films wrap things up for me in a tidy little bow, and I get that Sanchez wants to leave the character’s respective fates up to the viewer’s imagination, but I would have appreciated something a bit more concrete than what we’re given.
Lovely Molly comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment, and features a fairly sturdy 1.78:1 1080p transfer. While fine detail is evident throughout, and the overall image is crisp and well-defined, I noticed instances of blocking in the many dark scenes, as well as numerous compression artifacts. It’s not an awful transfer by any means, but it’s not likely to go over well with those who are supremely picky about PQ.
The DTS HD Master audio fares much better than the video transfer, with an aggressive, LFE heavy mix that runs the gamut from whisper quiet to bone-rattling. The film’s score is mostly a collection of percussive effects and low droning sounds that lend to the oppressive atmosphere. Surround effects are well-employed, with all manner of thuds, creaks, and moans working every corner of the room.
Bonus features include a fairly subdued commentary track featuring Sánchez and co-writer, Jamie Nash, as well as three pseudo-documentary featurettes – Path to Madness, Haunted Past, and Demonic Forces - that call to mind the “true story” marketing of The Blair Witch Project. The shorts are entertaining enough, but I’d have much preferred their running time be allotted to a proper making-of featurette. For that we get the EPK-ish Is it Real, which includes interviews with the principal cast and crew, as well as a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage, but it’s very short, and most of what’s said here is covered in the commentary track. Rounding out the extras is a collection of trailers for other Image releases. All bonus features are presented in 1080p.
The reviews for this one have been all over the place, with some proclaiming it to be the scariest film in years while others liken it to a bad Paranormal Activity ripoff (ironic, seeing as how, without Sanchez, there likely wouldn't be a Paranormal Activity franchise in the first place). Make no mistake; this is not an outright shocker. This is a film that relies more on atmosphere than jump scares and stings, and, between Sanchez’ assured direction and Lodge’s fantastic performance, I think it makes for a fascinating character study of addiction and madness. While I personally enjoyed the film’s creepy/quiet vibe, others may be put off by the deliberate pacing, the implied terrors, and the artsy/symbolic finale. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll love Molly. If you’re not sure, however, consider renting this one first.