Film Review: Lovely Molly

Spooky goings-on at the old family home conspire to drive a fragile young wife half out of her mind—or was she half out of her mind to begin with?
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Newly married Molly Reynolds (Gretchen Lodge) seems to have it all: not materially, perhaps, but she's got a husband, long-haul trucker Tim (Johnny Lewis), who adores her; a sister, Hannah (Alexandra Holden), who loves her deeply and lives nearby; a decent if uninspiring mall job and what the average person would consider a great place to live. It's nothing fancy, but the house where she and Hannah grew up, which has been empty since her father died, is roomy, located in a handsome wooded area, and just oozes rustic charm. You can just about see the line of yuppies desperate to buy a weekend place with…you know, so much character, chewing up their number 2 pencils and trying to ace their mortgage applications.

But Molly isn't happy there, and it's hard to blame her after the nighttime noises start, noises that sound like someone crashing around the downstairs and send the couple scurrying to safety behind their locked bedroom door. Yes, Tim hears them too, and he calls the police: Unlike so many imperiled horror-movie heroines, Molly at least doesn't have to suffer the betrayal of a spouse who thinks she just needs to chill out. But that's cold comfort given that the police find nothing and Tim can't always be there: Truckers don't get paid if they don't get out and drive, and the fact that there are clearly things Molly won't—or can't—tell Tim doesn't make it easier for him to help.

So Molly is left alone with the bad vibes that make her shudder whenever she's at home, especially when she peeks into the cellar, or the room filled with riding ribbons and trophies, as well as disturbingly mutilated photos of show horses. Complicating matters is her history of drug abuse—no matter how many times she swears the weirdness she's experiencing has nothing to do with dope, it's the first thing that occurs to anyone familiar with her history.

Like Blair Witch Project co-writer and co-director Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez has written and directed several subsequent features that came and went without notice. To some degree that was inevitable: Blair Witch was lightning in a bottle, a small, spooky movie that not only transcended its low-budget limitations but turned them into assets, from the unpolished acting to the grainy, handheld photography and absence of special effects. Let's face it: "Breakout hit of the decade" is a tough act to follow.

Lovely Molly isn't the movie that that will rocket Sanchez back into the limelight, but it is an effective little shocker anchored by newcomer Gretchen Lodge's remarkable performance as Molly. Lodge is clearly as game as she is genuinely talented—the number of uncomfortable things she's called upon to do, from standing stark naked in the rain to being sexually assaulted by an invisible attacker beneath the watchful eye of a security camera—is remarkable, and the fearlessness with which she does everything asked of her would be astonishing even if this weren't her first film role. The more experienced Holden and Lewis provide strong support, but Lovely Molly stands or falls with Lodge and steps up to the challenge.

And special mention should be made of the 18th-century house that serves as the film's principal location: A competent real-estate photographer could no doubt make it look the picture of rustic charm, but Sanchez and cinematographer John Rutland, an AFI grad whose CV leans heavily to shorts and reality television, warp its allure into a subtle and pervasive sense of menace that gives Lodge something to play against in the many scenes where she's the only (conventionally) living thing onscreen.