Eduardo Sanchez, co-writer and co-director of 1999’s found-footage watermark “The Blair Witch Project,” has returned to his old stomping grounds of the horror genre. Thirteen years after that lightning in a bottle comes another brainchild (which Sanchez co-wrote with Jamie Nash) called “Lovely Molly,” which comes across as yet another piggybacker of the now-antiquated found-footage genre but is anything but. And that’s both good and bad.
Three months after they tie the knot and move into her long-abandoned family home, struggling newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) experience an apparent break-in. Tim insists he locked the doors, but the cop finds no forced entry. As Tim goes off to work, driving trucks, Molly hangs back at the old, creaky house during her birthday. She starts hearing mysterious crying, banging noises at the door, and footsteps coming up the stairs. Then once her husband returns home, he sees a change in change in Miss Molly.
Less of a creepy exercise with the mere goal of startling than a psychological character study, “Lovely Molly” becomes increasingly disturbing to watch and leads into the deepest, darkest depths of the human psyche. It’s chillingly quiet, deliberately paced, and doesn’t underline everything for those that are paying attention. Sanchez and Nash don’t really throw us off with an “is it real or not?” gimmick but focus on the damaged Molly and her trauma. She’s a former heroin addict and starts recalling memories following her father’s death. Is she possessed or having a relapse? Is the ghost of her father haunting her or is she nuts?
With “Lovely Molly,” Sanchez still works within a vÃ©ritÃ© form and sometimes employs his home-video footage specialty to play a role in the story itself. One of the film’s most unnerving sequences has Molly sitting stark naked in a spare room staring at the wall, and another is surveillance footage of her being violated by an unseen assailant in the basement of her workplace. But the creepiest constant is newcomer Lodge, looking like a lovely young Gwyneth Paltrow. In a fearless, committed-as-hell performance, she is clearly up to the challenge of the title role. More-experienced actress Alexandra Holden lends strong support as Molly’s protective sister, Hannah.
About halfway through, the film is like watching a festering wound, becoming more and more of a queasy, unpleasant wallow. The filmmakers try shifting sympathies in a late twist, but the film just ends up being a sicker and not necessarily better version of “Silent House.” What’s even more disappointing is the muddled last shot when the second-to-last scene might’ve left things on a hauntingly ambiguous note. There are some effective chills and provocative ideas found in “Lovely Molly,” but the motor holding those chills and ideas together is wobbly and unsatisfying. As a whole film, it sticks in your craw rather than fully creeping under your skin.
99 min., rated R.
Grade: C +