Lovely Molly is determined to remain ambiguous, but the title says it all. Good-Lookin’ Joanie just wouldn’t have the same ominous ring to it.
There’s something unsettling about the word “lovely” in a title. The Lovely Bones deals with homicidal pedophilia; She’s So Lovely deals with a victim of rape and abuse. Even Paul McCartney’s cute song Lovely Rita is about a parking cop with an obsessive lover. The name “Molly” indicates a chaste ideal, like a Molly Mormon or Molly Maid, but also murderers and martyrs, like legendary Salem decapitator Hatchet Molly or the celebrated fictional Irish prostitute Molly Malone.
So we can assume, rightly, that this movie’s lovely Molly (Gretchen Lodge) is conflicted. As she cries into her camcorder while holding a knife to her throat in the movie’s first shot, we’re instructed to both sympathize with her and fear her.
Then, the movie flashes back a month earlier. Molly happily marries Tim (Johnny Lewis) and they move into her dead parents’ former farmhouse. But, quickly, things start to unravel, as they always do in dead parents’ former farmhouses. Molly starts to hear a lowing murmur which occasionally breaks into a few bars of sinister folk song. Nudity, blood, a repressed pastor, a maddening cellar, dead animals and other horror mainstays are soon to follow as Molly becomes increasingly feral. Is it psychosis or possession that Molly suffers from? Her supportive sister Hannah, played warmly by raspy-voiced Alexandra Holden, thinks the problem is Molly’s return to their childhood home, and Tim worries about Molly’s old heroin habit. There are other intimations of a sordid family history, or possibly demons from beyond, and the movie savvily ensures that it has no clear-cut explanation through a series of omissions. Literally, an unseen skeleton in the closet summons Molly.
Unfortunately, Lovely Molly’s images can’t compare to the hallucinatory and location-specific depictions of psychological breakdown, nor the complexities, of movies like Repulsion or The Shining – or even Don’t Look Now, which confirmed its ambiguity by the surprising last-minute appearance of a killer dwarf. Some of the shock effects in Lovely Molly are successfully disorienting, but too many of its ideas are reductive and histrionic, such as those concerning the male victimization of women, vengeance and mental illness. Key objects like a screwdriver are also inexplicably significant. It’s hard to tell why Molly is rigorously documenting herself, and why a portion of Lovely Molly is from her camcorder’s perspective, other than as a nod to the found-footage genre conventions that director Eduardo Sanchez established with The Blair Witch Project and which led to more recent financial success stories like Paranormal Activity.
The lack of razzle-dazzle dialogue gives the plot a simple momentum, but it’s often way too expository and frustratingly unambiguous. In an early scene, Tim explains to the audience that he’s a truck driver who has to leave Molly home alone. Actress Gretchen Lodge makes a convincing hysteric, but communicates other emotions flatly. Choose your ambiguities wisely.
- Directed by Eduardo Sanchez
- Written by Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash
- Starring Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis and Alexandra Holden
- Classification: 18A
Special to The Globe and Mail