Demonic possession is a well established theme that goes back to before Biblical times. Of course the popularity in film and literature sky rocketed in 1971 with the releases of the bestselling novel ‘The Exorcist’ by William Peter Blatty and the subsequent movie two years later by William Friedkin. After that possession became its own subset of the horror genre with an explosion of flicks hitting the Cineplex. Each one tries to differentiate itself from the pack but few do. None have been able to match the intensity of the classic jus cited but in due course a few have found a way to stand out notably. One of the latest to achieve that status is a movie ‘Lovely Molly’. By most accounts the film is undervalued and online accounts unable to fully appreciate what this movie has to offer. Instead of trying to come up with a gimmick the filmmaker, Eduardo Sánchez, decided take a more human approach. Ever since Linda Blair twisted her head around and spewed copious quantities of green goo, many people equate a story about demonic possession with the grossest possible special effects. This film does contain some horrific effects but they were used to help set the mood or enhance the emotional content of the story. while trying to emulate the popularity of the 1973 touchstone most directors seem to overlook the most important aspects used in its construction, focus on the humanity of the situation punctuated by horror. Sánchez has come closest to this proper formulation albeit not to the near perfection of the original. ‘Lovely Molly’ was the kind of film that I couldn’t wait to experience again. This was due to the intricacies of the plot and the subtle nuances of the emotional dynamic played out through the characters. In this way it personalizes the story more effectively providing the audience with a means to form a strong attachment to the titular Molly. I believe that this resulted in a misunderstanding with many fans of the genre. If you are expecting a post Friedkin gross out exorcism flick you will be disappointed. However if you are looking for a captivating human drama built upon the foundation of possession this is just the film you need to watch.
Eduardo Sánchez is no stranger to horror, particularly reinventing some of the traditional tropes used in the genre, he wrote and directed the "Blair witch Project’ as well as a couple of its less renown sequels. In the first film of that franchise he personalized the victims by employing the ‘Found footage’ technique, back before its current over use. This placed the audience literally in the shoes of the protagonists fostering an intensified emotional connection between character and viewer. In this movie Sánchez sets off on a different tact. It all hinges on how he painted the lead character. The innocence of a child is endearing and particularly useful in this setting but it does not pertain here. Molly (Gretchen Lodge) is a bit of a mess. She is about a year into her recovery from heroin addiction. While this in itself is quite psychologically stressful and emotionally difficult she is also beset by several other traditional stress factors. Molly has just married Tim (Johnny Lewis) and they have recently moved into the house owned by her deceased parents. Molly is struggling with her life, becoming a wife, getting clean and holding down a job at an outlet store but she is doing all this in the house where she grew up. The one person Molly has to turn to is her sister, Hannah (Alexandra Holden), but she is not exactly a stellar influence. In one scene early on Hannah smokes a joint in front of Molly quickly acquiescing to her sister’s request to join in. considering Molly is in recovery this does not depict Hannah as being there for her sister. It is a small moment, almost insignificant but this is one instance where multiple viewing was helpful. It is the little bits of real life that establish the interaction of the characters and provides a baseline for Molly’s personality. This way when the situation for Molly begins to spiral out of control for Molly we already have formed a sympathetic bond with the young woman.
In a very real sense Molly is facing this alone. Tim is a long haul trucker away for long stretches of time. She has the home and work to help fill the hours but she has not yet come to grips with devising a new coping mechanism now that her usual response to emotional distress, the needle, is no longer an option. Facing a demon is one thing but the scene where Molly is grievously tempted by a little envelop of smack and a syringe you can feel the inner turmoil experienced by the character. Molly is somewhat a tragic figure that you want to succeed but just at that point the strange circumstance move in on Molly.
Sánchez knows more about pacing that the typically horror film director. This might also contribute to the general lack of appreciation for this movie. Modern horror movies especially those produced here in the States have the tendency to rush headlong into the shocking effects. Here the filmmaker carefully simmers the mounting terror. It takes root in the recesses of the mind sparked by the visual effects but ultimately remaining in the realm of psychological horror. This is the old school method that many of us first experienced as we began our infatuation with cinema. Molly is a real young woman. She reacts to what is happening with confusion increasing her cigarette breaks. Her performance at work suffers and when Tim does come home the strain in their relationship constantly mounts. Once again the filmmaker plays with our sense of reality as viewed through Molly. Demonic spirits is not the first conclusion, from Molly’s perspective she is losing her grip on reality. Te audience is skillfully kept unaware of the true nature of what is happening making the audience reflect Molly’s doubts with our own ambiguity. Even at the end you can make a case for either cause. The film is a step in the right direction for this type of horror and presents an entertaining, spooky movie