As bravely unnerving, uncanny and unexplained as the film that made director Eduardo Sánchez famous, The Blair Witch Project.
When Lovely Molly opens with time-coded home video footage of the distraught heroine of the title (newcomer Gretchen Lodge) declaring to camera, "Whatever happened, it wasn't me," and then attempting to slit her own throat, viewers may well catch themselves experiencing the same suicidal impulse.
After all, the whole 'found footage' subgenre of horror has been done to death over the last decade, and for every The Collingswood Story, [REC], Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity to have grabbed our attention and shaken it hard, there are literally dozens of inferior imitators that confuse meandering amateurishness for genuinely inventive craft.
Still, as part of the duo (along with Daniel Myrick) who first popularised digicam devilry with The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, writer/director/editor Eduardo Sánchez has more than earned his right to return to the influential form that he helped create – and although Lovely Molly is similarly marked by its low budget and its cast of relative unknowns, here Sánchez is not merely resurrecting the ghosts of his own filmographic past, but doing something genuinely new with perspective.
For besides Molly's home video material, Sánchez deftly intercuts more conventional, non-handheld camerawork as well as the sort of disembodied POV tracking shots that are the staple of slasher movies – and he blends these three representational formats in such a way that the boundaries between them become increasingly blurred to disorienting effect, until any sense of an organising, objective viewpoint gets very lost.
A little over a year before the film's doom-laden opening footage was shot, Molly and Tim (Johnny Lewis) get married and move back into the rural house that Molly had shared throughout her childhood with her sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden) and their late parents.
Left to her own devices while Tim is off driving his truck cross country, Molly becomes more and more convinced that all the half-remembered demons of her past are coming back out of the closet to haunt her anew, even as her own behaviour begins to alter and some dark old habits return.
Caught in a downward spiral of traumatic memories and terrifying home invasions, Molly determines to capture the revenant spirit on video so that she can "show people this time" what she herself sees, hears and feels – and what she freely admits does not 'make sense.'
The results make for challengingly ambiguous viewing, as Sánchez puts the pieces in place, and then leaves us to work out for ourselves whether what we see is taking place in a haunted house, in camera, or merely in an unraveling psyche. Regressing into a shadowy, irrational space where both the uncanny and madness reside, Lovely Molly merges themes from Repulsion and A Tale of Two Sisters, while anchoring itself less to any solid reality than to the flighty intensity of Lodge's transformative performance.
It is all held together (or torn apart) by some very creepy sound design, and by the filmmaker's refusal, right to the very last frame, to give the game away. As a result, and as perhaps befits a film about moving house, this mixed-media mindmelt requires a lot of unpacking.
From the maker of The Blair Witch Project... and ParaAbnormal.
Ghost story? Possession plot? Psychological tragedy? Works as all three.
As bravely unnerving, uncanny and unexplained as the film that made Sánchez famous.