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SXSW 2012: 'Lovely Molly' ain't 'Blair Witch Project', but that's a good thing

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Eduardo Sanchez' "Lovely Molly"

Rating:
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Director Eduardo Sanchez never quite attained the levels of popularity that his first feature film, The Blair Witch Project, suggested he was destined for. Over the years, it’s been suggested that Sanchez is a bit of a “one-hit wonder”, a claim that might seem hard to dispute given the fact that the guy’s only made two feature films since Blair Witch’s 1999 debut, neither of which were even modest hits. But Sanchez’ latest—Lovely Molly, which is playing at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival this week—suggests that the director might be (at the very worst) a two-hit wonder. Read on for our official Lovely Molly review, my gentle Examiner readers…

Eduardo Sanchez came out of nowhere back in 1999, dropped The Blair Witch Project into our laps, saw it become one of the most profitable movies ever made, and then spent seven years getting his next film made. Altered—which went directly to home video—is a lot better than one might suspect given its non-popularity, but the film never really found an audience outside of the few genre fans who remember it. The director’s next film, Seventh Moon, also ended up on home video rather than in theaters, which means that Sanchez—talented or not—has gained a reputation for being a bit of a “one-hit wonder” over the past decade.

And so, it’ll be really interesting to see what Lovely Molly does for the guy’s career; the film—which is playing as part of this week’s 2012 SXSW Film Festival-- has been gaining some strong buzz since its initial debut over the weekend. Indeed, someone I’d spoken with during the Fest had favorably compared the film to Session 9 (the film I consider the best horror movie of the 00’s), which made it impossible for me not to give the film a chance when the opportunity arose last night. And while I probably wouldn’t have made that particular comparison, I am extremely glad that it was made in my presence: without that, I might have missed out on Sanchez’ film, and that’d be a true shame.

Lovely Molly stars Gretchen Lodge as the titular Molly, a troubled young woman we first see holding a knife up to her own throat and rambling crazily. While the majority of the film unfolds traditionally, this opening—plus a few other mini-sequences sprinkled throughout the film— features Molly speaking directly to the camera, Blair Witch-style. I couldn’t quite decide if this was a wink at the audience on Sanchez’ part, but in any event, it got my attention.

The shot leads into more handheld footage, which we soon realize is a flashback to Molly’s wedding day. This footage introduces the film’s other two major characters—Molly’s sister, Hannah (an excellent Alexandra Holden) and Molly’s soon-to-be husband, Tim (a very good Johnny Lewis)—and seems to indicate that all is well in Molly’s world. Over the course of the film’s first act, however, we learn that things aren’t quite as picturesque as they seem: Molly’s a recovering drug addict, for one thing, and we also learn that she and Hannah are the daughters of a monstrously abusive father.

Molly and Hannah’s father is now dead, but the memory of his abuse seems to hang over the house where he formerly lived. Tim and Molly have moved into this house following their wedding, and—in short order—it becomes apparent that things aren’t right in their new home: alarms are set off, footsteps are heard in the hallways, and Molly begins to hear voices. Shortly thereafter, she begins to act strange, and both Tim and Hannah suspect that she might be back on drugs. Is Molly using dope again? What, precisely, did Molly’s father do to her while she was a child? Most importantly, though: are Molly’s drug issues and troubled past making her hear these voices, or is the house actually haunted?

The story winds along in a very satisfying way, revealing key bits of information at regular intervals and keeping the audience guessing as to what might happen next. There are some really effective moments along the way, particularly those that seem to incorporate the booming (and singular) sound of horse hooves on hardwood floors onto the soundtrack. Towards the end, there are two or three really creepy sequences (culminating in a shot that fans of the film will be dissecting and arguing over for a long, long time), and through it all the three main actors do a terrific job with the material they’ve been handed…particularly Gretchen Lodge, whose decision to go full-frontal in numerous scenes will likely result in a whole bunch of reviewers using the word “fearless” in their descriptions.

All of this probably sounds like a humdinger of a good time, right? Well, large swatches of Lovely Molly are just that. But the film’s also got a number of pacing issues, and the chronology of some events (for instance, when and where in the narrative is that opening scene—the one with Molly holding a knife to her own throat—taking place?) seems…well, “murky” is probably a good word for it. None of these issues are bad enough for me to dissuade you from seeing the film, but they are worth mentioning. Perhaps it’s simply best if you go into this one knowing that it ain’t perfect. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll probably have a great time.

There’s more I’d like to say about the film, but until more people have had a chance to see it, I think it’d be wise to keep my mouth shut on any potential spoilers. Instead, I’ll just say this: Lovely Molly is—by turns—creepy, effective, frustrating, and awkwardly paced, features a number of strong performances, and proves that Eduardo Sanchez really needs to be making more films. This one isn’t perfect, but with a few more attempts at bat, he might just deliver something that rivals his best…which remains The Blair Witch Project.

My grade? B+

Stay tuned for more from the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, folks! We're going to have a ton of reviews, interviews, and on-site reports for you over the next week, including looks at 21 Jump Street (click for review), The Raid (click for review), Cabin in The Woods (click for review) a writeup on the opening of the Mondo Gallery, including an interview with Mondo's Justin Ishmael (click) and much, much more! Get "Subscribed" up top right now so you don't miss anything else!

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