The opening of Eduardo Sanchez’s hopeful comeback, Lovely Molly, seems to be a nod to The Blair Witch Project, the smash breakthrough that he co-wrote and directed with Daniel Myrick more than a decade ago. The title character (Gretchen Lodge) videotapes herself in close-up, weeping hysterically about something having gone terribly wrong, which was beyond her control. She’s not in the woods (that comes later) and Blair Witch’s Heather Donahue never tried to slash her own throat with a kitchen knife in that film’s iconic moment, but this starting scene certainly conjures up and then springs from the past horror.
For a few extra minutes the film appears to be yet another entry into the docu-style, “found footage” subgenre Sanchez helped popularize. Going back to the start of the story, we’re shown the marriage of Molly and Tim (Johnny Lewis) in the form of a wedding video. But then, surely to plenty viewers’ happiness, Sanchez switches to the more conventional third-person mode of cinematic storytelling, as we watch what happens to this poor couple after the honeymoon’s over. The film itself is like a metaphor for the success and legacy of Blair Witch.
The home movie stuff is not gone for good, though, and I believe this is a great progression for the waning trend. Mixing the first-person videocam stuff with primarily objective direction might be the best new path for scary movies of this kind. Some scenes are all amateur style, some are all professional style and some go back and forth between the two, which allows you to really comprehend the way Sanchez is opening up this sort of world. Sorry, Paranormal Activity 3, but now you’re really going to seem antiquated to me come October.
Interestingly enough, Sanchez was apparently writing Molly, which involves a young woman being haunted by a demon in her home and by demons from her past, when the first Paranormal Activity was released. There are a number of similarities here with that series-spawner, including the prevalence of a sister who maybe holds keys to the backstory, yet Sanchez gives us an improved version, as he’s able to go to so many more places and show us so many more things that strict found footage style cannot.
Okay, so in all honesty Molly never comes remotely close to being as scary as the first Paranormal Activity. It’s more a creepy and psychologically chilling film than something attempting to frighten you out of your seat. But this is of course fantastic if you actually like to think about the horror and respond to it in ways other than jumping. People are comparing it to Polanski, which fits since Sanchez says he saw the similar Repulsion for the first time just weeks prior to shooting.
I’m typically unconcerned with scares, so I almost didn’t notice the film’s lack of blatant thrill tactics. What I find more arousing is the pile of potential motives and loaded issues Sanchez and co-writer Jamie Nash provide their main character. She’s a recovering heroin addict still in a stage of possible relapse. Also, something happened to her as a girl. Something else likely significant involves the death of her father. Maybe she’s also possessed? Maybe there’s a demon haunting her? What’s the deal with her neighbors? Perhaps she’s wrestling with a combination of every influence ever employed in a horror film to explain the actions of a disturbed main character. I don’t know that it’s intentionally that ambitious, but it nevertheless comes off as a kind of psychical whodunit.
Lovely Molly will not reach the zeitgeist levels of attention or financial success The Blair Witch did. There are plenty of things wrong with it that I’d rather not nitpick about, and anyway it likely won’t immediately look as original as it truly is. But the film is sure to raise the esteem of Sanchez enough following a period of obscurity. And if he is really trying to do new things with the horror genre while advancing currently popular forms and technique, I wish it well so that we can see the next step in his career. Preferably it’s an upward one.