Help! It’s the Blair Heir Bunch! Part IV: Lovely Molly (2011)

Concluding our series on the modern follow-ons from The Blair Witch Project. This one has the strongest connection of any of them…

ICONIC TALISMAN: Yes, though only glimpsed for a moment.

For years the standard response to the success of The Blair Witch Project was limited. There were parodies, of course, but the wave of found-footage movies that followed weren’t much more than superficial parodies themselves. Reality television seemed to get into the phenomenon a little bit deeper, but the lesson they took away from Blair Witch went awry: they saw…

  1. that with enough footage, you could tell any story you wanted, and tell it very convincingly;
  2. that POV video could make you a lot of money from a very small investment;
  3. that overmarketing will kill a brand, but it’ll also make the producers rich… so who cares?
  4. and that while people no longer believe that “pictures don’t lie”, they are much more likely to suspend their disbelief if a movie camera is hand-held.

These are all interesting lessons, but they’re not really enough. So while there’s a line to be traced directly from Blair Witch to Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, the really interesting developments that should have followed Myrick and Sánchez’s work took almost a decade to appear. I guess it’s only fitting that one of the best of the current crop of movies that bear an obvious relationship to Blair Witch should come from none other than Eduardo Sánchez himself.

Lovely Molly starts with a knowing reference to the most famous moment from the 1999 movie: the heroine sits in front of a camera, sobbing in despair, apologizing for the horrible things that have just happened. Yes, says Sánchez, I made The Blair Witch Project; let’s just get this out of the way, shall we? The first second or two of this introductory scene feels like a quick wink from the director. But enjoy the moment: a split-second later, things get very unpleasant indeed. The movie doesn’t wink again. It maintains a steady, ice-cold stare and doesn’t look away for a moment.

Molly and Tim have been married for about a year, and life for them is not easy. They’re both blue-collar folks — hats off to Sánchez for making a horror movie that remembers most ordinary people, even haunted ones, have jobs and responsibilities! Tim is a truck driver whose job requires him to be off on the road for long stretches. Molly is a janitor at a mall. They’re just about the least glamorous and most compellingly realistic couple ever to inhabit a horror flick.

Money is tight for the couple, so they are relieved that Molly’s family’s old house is available for them to live in for the first few years. It’s actually a very nice old farmhouse, far bigger than anything they could hope to afford… but it’s an old house, and subject to all sorts of inconveniences. It’s also the place where Molly’s father met a messy end when she was just a child. Molly herself has had issues related to her father’s death: she’d become addicted to drugs as an adolescent, and had spent some time in an institution… apparently for more than just detox. There are definitely bad memories hanging about the place. But in Molly and Tim’s position, the troubled past must make way for the troubled present.

Almost as soon as the movie’s been set up for us, the couple experience a terrifying midnight break-in at the old farmhouse. When the police arrive, they don’t find anybody on the premises, but Tim and Molly know they heard someone moving around in the pitch-dark house. It’s never made clear if the break-in has anything to do with the sinister events that play out through the rest of the film, but that doesn’t matter. The break-in puts us immediately in sympathy with Tim and Molly — reminds us of their vulnerability by putting them in a realistic situation with which we can identify very easily.

Shortly thereafter, Tim has to leave on an unexpected job. It’s good he’s getting work, since the couple needs the money. Unfortunately, this means he’ll be out of town for Molly’s birthday. Molly’s hurt by this at first. Eventually she makes peace with Tim (over her cellphone), but she’s still pensive when her vivacious older sister Hannah comes to celebrate with her.

Things start to go bad when Hannah unthinkingly shares a joint with her sister over slices of birthday cake. Hannah immediately regrets her action, remembering Molly’s substance abuse problems. Molly simply brushes off her sister’s concern. But that night — coincidentally or not — the disturbances begin for Molly as she tries to sleep, alone, in her father’s old house.

It certainly feels as though there’s someone in the house with her… particularly in her father’s old study, with its peculiar wall-full of horse pictures. Is that really a voice that she hears whispering fiercely to her? Are those the sounds of footsteps coming from downstairs? Or is she just imagining things in a house full of bad memories and bad floorboards?

After a few troubling incidents, Molly casually approaches her sister at work and asks her of she could, maybe, score her a little weed to help her relax. This sets off all sorts of alarm bells with Hannah — as well it ought. In the meantime, Molly continues to lose sleep as the strange events continue at the house. The light in the bedroom she shared with her sister growing up seems to turn itself on every night. Molly’s even awakened by the sound of a child sobbing from that room. The strange occurrences are accompanied by a high-pitched ringing sound, like the buzzing you get in your ears sometimes (for example, before you faint).

And all the while, the narrative flow is interrupted by brief cuts to hand-held video camera footage taken by Molly herself. Why is she singing to herself in that eerie, girlish voice? Why does she seem drawn to her neighbor’s house, to look through her windows… to spy on her children? What is the meaning of the curious horse-headed talisman Molly takes from its hiding place in the cellar?

All through my first viewing of Lovely Molly, I found myself deeply impressed. Here, I thought, was a Bad House movie where it was clear — unambiguously clear — that the haunting was entirely in the heroine’s troubled mind. Molly is deeply disturbed; by the time she climbs into the attic and digs out the secret stash of heroin she’d hidden before they took her away as a teen, we see that she’s never really recovered from her early traumas. With an addict’s cunning, she’s convinced herself as much as everyone else that she’s outgrown her issues; but it’s not true. Her stash suggests she’d never fully intended to break free of the drugs — not in the deepest part of her. And her use of the drugs suggests that she’s never been free for a moment from the demons of her childhood.

Of course, the main demon of her childhood was her own father. The sobbing that she thinks she hears coming from the closet in her old childhood room? That’s the ghostly echo of her own sobbing, a long time ago, as she hid in the darkness while her father did unmentionable things to Hannah (and later, to her). And the Thing that eventually comes clomping up the stairs at night, chanting Molly’s name over the clatter of approaching hooves, is her father’s evil spirit.

Is it real, this uncanny horse-demon? Is it truly banging on the door to be let in? Has it really knocked the key out of the keyhole and demanded entrance? Molly’s POV video camera says yes: it is, and it has…

…but can we trust the video? Later on, when Molly’s employer shows her surveillance camera footage that seems to show her having a seizure, we discover that what Molly sees in the same footage is herself being raped by a dark stranger. When the boss blames Molly for what he sees on-screen, not realizing Molly sees it so differently, it drives the already-distraught girl into pure raving hysteria. Clearly we cannot trust what we think we’re seeing through Molly’s eyes… or even through Molly’s video camera.

Gretchen Lodge, as Molly, does a fantastic job of portraying a woman gradually succumbing to mental illness. The central tragedy, the core of Molly’s deterioration, is that she has been corrupted by her father. She has a horrible affinity for his abusive nature — whether through some hereditary illness, or just as a result of the perversion of the natural bond between father and daughter, she is becoming like him… and the strain is destroying her. It’s a brave performance in what appears to be a brave film… a film that doesn’t shrink from showing us a truly damaged psyche… a film that keeps us sympathizing with Molly, even after her collapse has made her a monster; a film that doesn’t bother to suggest the haunting is real, but shows us instead how irrationality leads to stories of ghosts and demons.

At least, that’s what I thought I was watching.

But then… after I’d watched the brutal, uncompromising story of a woman destroyed by the demons of her own mind… I saw the movie’s brief coda. And then I watched the DVD Special Features. And then I went on-line to see what others, including Eduardo Sánchez himself, had said about the film. And boy, was I ever surprised.

Because it turns out this superbly unambiguous study of Haunting as Mental Illness was actually supposed to be a genuine Demon Possesion film.


Tell me, if you like, that Citizen Kane is a film about sledding. Tell me that Titanic was an educational film about boating safety. Tell me anything. But please! By Azazel, by Samael, by Jor-el and Kal-el… by Baphomet, by Calumet, by Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, don’t try to tell me that Lovely Molly‘s about genuine demon possession. I mean, they’d done so well, up until the coda! It’s as though they watched Uruguay’s La Casa Muda and thought, “Yes, very interesting — but that’s not the way mental illness really works; we can do this better.” Sánchez & Co. gave us a sensitive portrayal of Molly as young woman with deep psychological problems… problems that just happened to manifest themselves as some kind of supernatural visitation. They showed us how trauma and substance abuse lead to Molly’s break with the real world, into a terrifyingly real-seeming hallucination that eventually destroys her life (and the lives of those around her). They showed us a harrowing illustration of the cycle of abuse. There was absolutely no need to drag the Devil into it.

And in fact, dragging the Devil into it cheapens the whole story. I’ve already had enough of Pat Robertson and his ilk on my TV screen, blaming the latest natural disaster on gay marriage and unwed mothers — some evangelical yob insisted the hurricane that tore through my town and my state in 2012 was God’s warning, because the evil liberal northeast was too soft on the sodomites. With this foolishness still ringing in my ears, the very last thing I want is another movie suggesting that some serious, tragic problem — like mental illness — is actually demonic possession. Are you kidding? Demonic possession is almost cosy compared to the alternative.

Now, if you want to think of Lovely Molly as such a conventional horror film, you can. There’s enough leeway in the telling of the story to support either conclusion, if you absolutely must have some ambiguity about the supernatural. Until the coda. The coda ruins everything by tacking on a hackneyed “it isn’t over” epilog — actually, now that I stop to think about it, it isn’t even the coda in its entirety so much as it is one gesture: one spoon-fed piece of information left out for us (and for one of the surviving characters) in an obvious place, to let us know the whole story’s been stage managed by Ol’ Scratch.

Turn off the movie just before the epilog, and you’ll be left with a near-masterpiece. You’ll see a convincing portrayal of evil as an inside force: something that results from poor choices and poisoned opportunities, something that’s passed down across generations like a disease. Something that forces us to hallucinate demons and ghosts to externalize the horrible pressures within. Something tragically human.

Watch it to the very end, though, and all you’ll see is another average horror movie.

This is not to say that there aren’t other problems with Lovely Molly, too — principally its male characters. The preacher-man, Pastor Bobby, is way too easy a target — I say this aware that I might be accused of contradicting myself in my outlook on religion in this film. But seriously: Pastor Bobby is much too much the cliché of the venal priest. Furthermore, Tim — who is in every other way the picture of a loving and long-suffering husband — does something thoughtless and stupid in the course of the story. Not only is what he does out of character for the man we’ve seen so far, it’s also brought into the story so abruptly, with such inadequate preparation, that a common reaction in viewers is to look back and question whether it was really Tim in those scenes. Worse, it feels as though the only reason this lapse was written in was to give Molly some sort of twisted justification for what she does to him. I’d like to think we’ve reached a stage where we can allow strong female characters to stand on their own — even as monsters. There’s no reason to weaken the male characters just to build some sort of misguided sympathy for a strong woman.

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One Response to Help! It’s the Blair Heir Bunch! Part IV: Lovely Molly (2011)

  1. Billy Flynn says:

    I have really enjoyed your Blair Witch Heir series of reviews. I would not have seen these movies had I not been intrigued by what you had to say about Atrocious so I decided to watch all these movies before reading the reviews. I agree with you completely about Lovely Molly (a flick I had seen on Netflix but ignored because of the generic demon/monster looking person on the cover) and why you should turn it off two minutes before it ends. Horror always works best when it has a foothold in reality. Most movies do this by trying to make the impossible seem like it *could* happen. What makes Lovely Molly so strong is that the horror molly faces is all too real. Abuse, childhood trauma, drug addiction, institutionalization,….. these are true horrors but nothing is as horrific as losing one’s mind. The fact that Molly does because of her past is all the more horrifying. The scene with Molly & Tim in the bedroom where she keeps asking “Can’t you hear him?” is scarier than most things Hollywood puts out. Then, like you, I got to the coda and thought…. what the hell. Unless Hannah was starting to lose her mind this ending does make sense for the movie that preceded it. Good flick.. almost amazing flick. Thanks again for bringing these films to my attention.

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