Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lovely Molly

Lovely Molly 

It must be hard as an artist to know whether to embrace or fight against your reputation. Even harder if what you are known for was a culture defining break through. George A. Romero for example, has been happily milking a zombified teat for the past fifteen years or so, piling more and more shit onto the mile-high mountain of modern zombie horror. Sam Raimi on the other hand, has been stamping his visual style on to big budget blockbusters, progressing away from his horror roots whilst never forgetting their importance. 
Eduardo Sánchez is best known for co-directing The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 and despite the film's major cultural impact he has done little of note since then. So with the current relentless wave of found-footage horror undeniably owing a debt to Eduardo’s early work, he seems to feel its time for the big boys to step in and show the kids just how dead horse-flogging should be done.

Opening with home video footage of a wedding we are introduced to Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and her husband Tim (Johnny Lewis) in their new marital home, a dilapidated old farm house out in the countryside in which Molly lived as a child. Slowly she starts to lose control and descends deeper and deeper into depression as a result of relapsing into previously conquered drug habits and the haunting memories that pursue her around the house. Despite the efforts of her friends, family and church leader Molly stays her course of self-destruction and despair, trying her best to sporadically document her experiences as she goes.

A mixture of found-footage and conventional filming, the soundtrack is dominated by a combination of music from post-rock legends Tortoise and a tinnitus-inducing high pitched squeal that accompanies any moments of paranormal spookiness. This whine is extremely unsettling; it’s a tone that really fills your head and throws it out of focus. Used seemingly as an attempt to build an almost Pavlovian response, it feels ever more grating each time it repeats. The use of this noise does well to sum up the film as a whole; it is a good idea that ultimately doesn't work.

The pace is slow and meticulous and I understand how that could be a turn-off for many people, but the constant shots of the back of people’s heads and the occasional video camera views of an unknown house being spied upon add to the mystery brilliantly. Again what also may discourage people from Lovely Molly is the films ambiguity. Don’t go in expecting clean, well informed endings here. Exposition is rare and symbolism is left wide open as to it's context within reality.

Taking a love bite to a new level
Atmosphere and tension are piled on in bucket-loads and for the most part extremely competently. Dread bubbles just below the surface and Molly’s stoic façade slowly and subtly wastes away as her problems multiply. Disappointingly the film fails whenever it tries to deliver upon this ratcheted-up tension, let down mainly mostly by wooden acting. The ideas themselves even sound great: someone getting fucked by a ghost in a hallway, sexually tormenting a born again Christian to breaking point and a bite mark covered corpse left stagnating in the bath tub. There is unfortunately only one particular moment that treats the ideas as well as they deserve and shows just where this film could have sat if it had got the rest of it right. Whilst kissing her husband Molly starts to bite on his mouth clasping so relentlessly that he can’t shake her off for fear of losing a large chunk of his face as blood starts streaming across them both. It is for the most part an unedited and believable scene that is the perfect peak of shock to top off the films slow, down to earth approach.

At its best the film sits somewhere between Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Hans-Christian Schmid’s Requiem. It contains the everyday character driven elements of Requiem, where subtle changes mean so much and everything hinges on the central performances, and the poetic and figurative symbolism of Antichrist, able to ramp up the violence in a way that shocks rather than titillates and has something genuine to say. The problem with that is that this film doesn't really have anything to say. It seems to be unsure of whether it wants to be art-house or Hollywood, flicking between tastefully delivered nudity and perving shots of Lovely Molly’s lovely bum.
The biggest mistake for the story was Molly’s drug addiction. In a similar way that the Evil Dead re-make
used Mia’s cold turkey as a catalyst for the ensuing mayhem, Lovely Molly uses drug abuse as a symbol of her decent through a spiral of depression. It is unclear whether this is meant to be a typical “was it all in her head” story or not, something I’m sure was purposeful, but it feels like such a lazy and unimaginative inclusion for the story-line. Drugs in films usually stand for two things: the first is as an excuse for a ‘random’ imaginative brain fart in the form of a trip sequence, and the second is to show to the audience just how bad a person the drug user is and just how down on their luck they must be. The question that is unanswered here is whether it is the latter or a combination of both. Either way it detracts from identifying with the character and being able to find her madness emotionally engaging.
2013 Evil Dead re-make
It does do a large number of things extremely well but chucks a few too many ideas at the screen. Her religious devotion, although understandably an element of rehabilitation, seems out of place and the whole strand of story-line in which she seduces her church leader seems rushed. There are several other moments in which a pay-off is delivered that only works once you think back and reconsider moments that seemed so insignificant at the time they have been long forgotten. It seems Eduardo Sanchez had a pool of great ideas but couldn't pick which ones were more or less worthy of filming. With a bit of ruthlessness and less concern for how many separate elements could fit in a short time frame there could have been something truly great here. I instead found myself dwelling on the mistakes and thinking of ways it could be better.
I have purposely left talking about the ‘found-footage’ until last. For the most part it is stupidly redundant in this film. When spying on the neighbors the home video gives a believable extra element when a conventional POV shot would have seemed out of place within the style of the rest of the film. It actually does add a credible use for the style. The rest of it is just the same pile of tired old balls that can be seen in any innumerable horror films made in the last decade. There is a date and •REC sign in the corners of screen which are stupid if meant to be realistic, and insulting if used as an indicator to the audience of which bits are meant to be filmed using Molly’s video camera. Also, who the fuck buys a camera with night vision filter? I couldn't help but audibly groan when the shot dropped to the floor pointing conveniently at the door which was just about to spookily move. It’s inclusion in the film seems to be Eduardo Sánchez desperate to stamp his authority on the genre. Rather than provide a breath of fresh air to such an overcrowded cinematic idea, he instead seems to take a brief hold of the reigns and continue flogging the equestrian corpse of found footage like so many recent film makers have been so happy to do.

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