Nearly fifteen years after the hugely influential—for better and mostly worse—Blair Witch Project, its co-writer and co-director Eduardo Sanchez has delivered another brain-teasing dud. Lovely Molly, in which our “lovely” heroine attempts to start a new life with trucker hubby Tim in her less-than-idyllic childhood home, is incoherent, sexist, and derivative. While two out of three might be bearable, three out of three spells trouble.
I expect no more than thinly veiled misogyny from contemporary horror films, and I’ve gladly endured atrocities of gynophobia for the sake of a few thrills, a witty death-trap, or a novel disembowelment. But even Molly’s most successfully unsettling moments—an invisible horse-wasp creature that trundles through the dank back passageways of a mall, or a festering, mutilated stag—are hardly exhilarating, much less original. (Most of the film’s shocks are further cheapened by erratic volume levels on the soundtrack.) In Trouble Every Day (2001), Claire Denis perfected the carnivorous kiss, like the one Molly lands on her husband and later the degenerate “Pastor Bobby,” without reducing her female protagonist to a raving succubus (or at least Béatrice Dalle made a sympathetic raving succubus). But that’s what Molly becomes—succubus, siren, and harpy all packed into one hot, inexplicably naked psychokiller!
Possessed by a malevolent spirit (or is it her own memories?—the film delights in infuriating, arbitrary ambiguity), Molly oscillates between sniveling victim and ruthless, randy predator—both hysterical caricatures of victimized womanhood. Her sexually and physically abusive father pulls the strings from beyond the grave, and so rather than being weird and sadistic in her own right, she is merely a receptacle for the weird, sadistic will of a man. The film may grant Gretchen Lodge her star turn, but her character founders, bereft of even a whiff of agency.
If indeed Lovely Molly’s tour of tropes of feminine horror is a self-conscious one (which I very much doubt), it pales in comparison to Antichrist. Lars von Trier’s film brought us a tortured female protagonist embracing her own abjection without also attempting to deliver a viable cult classic, Friday-night frights, and a sexy scream queen.
You could puzzle over the Lost-like vagaries of Molly for days, considering and eliminating various profundities in turn: is it a throwback to Gothic Horror (à la The Haunting or Secret Beyond the Door), with Molly’s feminine domesticity allowing her a privileged bond with this haunted space? Are the horses that haunt Molly an intentionally Freudian phallic menace (cf. Analysis of a Phobia of a 5-year-old Boy)? But you will find that there’s simply no there there.