Back in 1999, Eduardo Sanchez (along with co-director Daniel Myrick) terrified audiences with the worldwide phenomenon “The Blair Witch Project”. At its time of release it was such a unique film, shot on a shoestring budget and filmed on video, it took on the big guys and not only won the battle, it totally destroyed its opponent. “The Blair Witch Project” was such a success that it seemed to indicate that if you had the means at your disposal, anyone could make a movie. As was soon proven by the huge glut of inept features made on a dime, that wasn’t necessarily the case; you also needed a good story and some talent behind the camera too. Since his amazing debut though, Sanchez has barely been heard from in the horror scene. It is not that he hasn’t been making movies, it is just that none have come close to matching the quality of “The Blair Witch Project” (it is tough starting at the top, just ask Orson Welles). However, with his latest film “Lovely Molly” Sanchez has finally hit gold again creating a supernatural (?) film about mental illness that is as good as his first feature (story-wise, I mean, there is no way he will ever recapture the financial success of “The Blair Witch Project”).
“Lovely Molly” is about a newly married couple, Molly and Tim, who move back into Molly’s deceased parent’s house, only to have Molly haunted by a trauma from her past. Throughout the film, it is obvious that something happened to Molly in this house, but we also learn that she is a recovering drug addict, no doubt brought on from her initial trauma. As Molly slowly and continually withdraws within herself, Tim struggles to understand if his wife is back on drugs again or if something sinister is happening to her. Even more disturbingly is whether or not she is a threat to injuring anyone including herself.
Eduardo Sanchez has created quite an intense experience with “Lovely Molly” which interestingly has the same opening as his most famous film; his leading lady talking and crying into a camcorder. This is where the comparisons with “The Blair Witch Project” end though because “Lovely Molly” is its own thing, mainly concerned with how much a trauma can affect a person throughout the entirety of their life. Similar to “The Exorcist”, the success of this film has to do with the opening scenes we see of Molly and Tim together, so happy on their wedding day. These scenes are crucial so we can witness just how far Molly falls. Sanchez creates the film with a sense of ambiguity where it can be seen in two different lights. The first is that there is a supernatural presence within the story that causes Molly to do the things that she does, or the other, that everything that happens plays out in Molly’s damaged and fractured mind as she relapses on drugs and begins to remember the terrible things that happened to her when she was younger. Personally I think the film is much stronger dramatically if it is indeed happening all in Molly’s head, and this is how I saw it. If the supernatural presence were to be real, I think it would make the film far cheesier, where as I think it is actually trying to say something about how damaged a person truly becomes after they are abused by someone they trust.
The film belongs to lead actress Gretchen Lodge who plays the difficult role of Molly and is simply outstanding. She fully commits to the role both physically and more importantly mentally. It is heartbreaking to watch this girl slowly deteriorate before our eyes as she heads down the path of self destruction. You truly believe that Molly is seeing what she says she is seeing because the terror is all in her eyes. Lodge is naked at length throughout the film, not just in the flesh but also emotionally, and she does not flinch at all. She goes to some very dark places during this story and presents them to us so honestly and heartbreakingly. It is seriously one of the best performances of the year. If Lodge was unable to make us believe of the reality that what her character was going through was real to her, than the film would just not work but she excels here and it is because of her performance that “Lovely Molly” is as successful as it is.
The other fine performance that I loved in the film was from Alexandra Holden as Molly’s older sister Hannah. Holden plays Hannah as a damaged soul too but one who is coping better with the past. There is no doubt that she has gone through some pain in her life as well as there is an evident sadness in her eyes but you can also sense some guilt too, no doubt due to the fact that she feels partly responsible to what Molly is going through. The character of Hannah helps in the creation of the ambiguity of the film because while Molly really believes everything that is happening to her, you can sense that Hannah has seen this all before back when Molly was struggling with substance abuse. The only problem with Hannah is that her character does some really stupid things in the film, not least openly smoking and offering a joint to a recovering addict.
Sadly, the performance from Johnny Lewis as Molly’s husband Tim just doesn’t hold any weight and he is regularly outclassed acting wise by the women he shares the screen with. This ultimately causes Tim to be a very forgettable character which is a shame.
For the majority of “Lovely Molly” it is shot in a normal fashion but sporadically throughout it, video footage shot by Molly is shown to us. For me this part of “Lovely Molly” just did not work at all and its excision ultimately would have made for a better film. Within the footage we see Molly basically stalking another family, a mother and her two kids, from the neighbourhood. It isn’t until late in the film that we understand why she is observing them and it does lead to two very dark moments towards the finale but this subplot ultimately feels extraneous and does a disservice to the balk of the main plot. It creates a jarring effect as we are watching this girl descend into madness and then suddenly we are outside with a camcorder looking at a supposedly happy family. You lose that intensity which has been building so well and it makes it very hard for the audience to get back into.
Despite this flaw (and a few idiotic character moments) I think Eduardo Sanchez has done a great job at creating an uncomfortable environment. The (non-video) camera work is all handled very nicely and I was particularly impressed by the soundtrack that keeps audiences on edge. He doesn’t use loud noises to accentuate a horror moment in cheap fashion rather he uses strange sounds to create a tension filled atmosphere. The use of the folk-song “Lovely Molly”, which is sung by Molly’s father almost calling out to her, is so damn effective and creepy at the same time. Also the sound of horse’s hooves at regular intervals is brilliantly done and is just so chilling. The film isn’t a gory one, although there are scenes of gore within it, and it isn’t filled with scenes designed to give you a quick jolt, however Sanchez has created a film with an atmosphere of dread that continues to get darker as the film goes on.
While the film is not perfect, I was still impressed with Eduardo Sanchez’s latest film “Lovely Molly”. It is well known that I am a huge fan of films about the fractured mind and Molly’s descent into madness is an interesting and intense experience. It has a standout lead performance from Gretchen Lodge that anchors the film within reality while at the same time Sanchez has created an ambiguity that leaves the door open to suggest that everything that is happening may in fact be supernatural. Thankfully Sanchez is smart enough not to over explain things, particularly with the ending, which ultimately adds to the experience of “Lovely Molly”.