The young, pretty and wonderfully ordinary Molly has just the right amount going for her. Although she’s stuck in a pretty crappy cleaning job, she gets to work side by side with her sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden), she’s just married the amiable, hard-working Tim (Johnny Lewis) and thankfully they don’t have to save up to buy a house – they can move into Molly’s old family home. Sure, being a trucker Tim often has to spend the night away, but surely even someone as naturally skittish as Molly can deal with a few creaks in the night? After installing an alarm and kissing his new wife goodbye, Tim assures her that she’ll be fine. But it soon becomes clear that – trapped in the house she grew up in – Molly is going to have to confront forces she believed to be long dead. And supernatural or psychological, they’re dangers no amount of security can protect from.
Unsurprisingly for a film directed by the man behind The Blair Witch Project, it isn’t long before Molly is traversing the house with a hand-held camera and ragged breaths, seeking out a malevolent force that appears to no-one but her. As familiar room after familiar room becomes an enemy to the increasingly paranoid Molly, it soon transpires that abuse at the hands of her father – abuse seemingly put to rest with his death – is dragging Molly into darkness once again. But is she dealing with personal demons, or real ones? Director Eduardo Sanchez plans to keep us guessing throughout the film’s 100 minute running time, aware that – cinematically speaking at least – there’s a rather wonderfully fine line between possession and psychosis.
There’s no denying that our man Sanchez has heaped a lot onto his plate here. Dealing with issues of child abuse, of drug habits long beaten but suddenly awoken, of familial trust, loyalty and of an evil that may or may not be supernatural – there’s certainly a lot to get wrong. Thankfully, Sanchez manages for the most part to stay on track, managing to build scare after scare that vary from the slow-burningly eerie to the the genuinely horrifying. Gretchen Lodge has a lot to do with the power of the reveals themselves, throwing herself utterly into a role that demands all manner of dreadful things from her – willing, it seems, to be utterly fearless so that we never are. The supporting cast are also strong in roles that could easily be forgettable – Alexandra Holden’s steady but similarly haunted sister Hannah provides the perfect counterpoint to Molly’s increasingly uncontained mania and Johnny Lewis is honest and heartbreaking as Tim, the husband who only wants to help and who absolutely can’t.
That’s not to say the film isn’t without problems. The pacing – admittedly always difficult to judge in the type of film that swings constantly from slow-burn to high-impact horror – lags at points and then races far too quickly at others; resulting in a film that doesn’t quite seem to know how or when to end. The plot borrows heavily from 2010’s The Silent House, and a repeated motif of an ominous horse (really) – somehow associated with her father – feels forced and at times a little silly, often threatening to break the tension built by both the visuals and the (for the most part excellent) soundtrack. The hand-held camera aspect too feels a little done, coming off as a gimmick (LIKE IT ALWAYS BLOODY DOES); distancing us from the story rather than making it feel more immediate. “Lodge is doing her acting!”, you want to cry, “and frankly you’ve given her more than enough to do with that screwdriver, never mind forcing her to add a home-video into the mix.”
But considering how much the film takes on, it does feel a little mean to pick at it. At the end of the day, Lovely Molly is genuinely frightening. Combining barely-there chills with full-on gore in order to keep its audience disorientated, on edge and utterly bewildered, you can forgive it its faults for what it does right. Molly’s spiral into despair may be anything but lovely, but there’s no denying she’s a lady you’ll struggle to stop thinking about.