Let's Talk About the Hashtag Comedy Show

Wherein I discuss Royal and Doodall Day 2012, The Hashtag Comedy Show, Tiny Odd Conversations, and the importance of supporting your favorite podcasts.

Let's Talk About The Savage Land and the Savage Times

Wherein Guest Editor Ed Wallick discusses the savage times in the savage land, the human parable, and the seeming disintegration of society.

Let's Talk About Anna Karina

Wherein Robert Patrick becomes our first Guest Editor and discusses women, including Anna Karina, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and why some of these are better than the others.

Let's Talk About the Death of Jimmy Callaway

Wherein we discuss the life and times of Jimmy Callaway, whether or not he's really dead, Attention: Children, and the Criminal Complex.

Let's Talk About Lovely Molly

Wherein we discuss Eduardo Sanchez, his new film Lovely Molly, found footage, and The Blair Witch Project.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Let's Talk About Lovely Molly

Have you heard of Lovely Molly?

No, you’re not going to get any horror movie cinephile elitism from me if you haven’t, because I didn’t either until a few nights ago while sitting alone watching television when a DVD trailer happened across the screen.

The movie hasn’t made much of an impact.  It started its rounds in the film festival circuit last September and floundered for a theatrical release for several months before Image Entertainment confirmed its limited release for May 18.  No question why I’d never heard of it.  The film had a tiny advertising budget which, I assume, was mainly spent on six teaser films (I’ll talk about those later), and I haven’t stepped foot in a movie theater in months, opting instead for a local two-screen drive-in.  So, if it’s not there and it’s not on the television or being thrown at me from the internet, I probably won’t see it.  If you’re much like me, you won’t see it either.  But, just for fun, go check it out.

Now that you’ve googled it, let me start with the Eduardo Sanchez thing.  Sanchez is one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project.  I’d like to say he’s the one that matters, but I don’t think either of them do, and I can’t remember the other guy’s name, so I won’t discuss their differences.   If you’ve ever talked to me for any period of time, you know I have an unfailing and prideful love for The Blair Witch Project.  There are a few reasons around this, ranging from the film’s brilliant advertising campaign to the fact that this group of resourceful young people produced one of the greatest hoaxes in American history.  Yeah, you’re reading this thinking, man, Blair Witch Project sucked, and I’m certain that you’re thinking that for two reasons:
  1. You’ve never really seen it, but judging it according to the worldwide disdain for the film, or;
  2. You’re still butthurt that you were fooled, just like the rest of the country.
But the biggest reason I still love the movie to this day is that it’s the vehicle that introduced me to the Found Footage mode of filmmaking.  In fact, I’ve seen countless news sources and print media citing Sanchez and The Blair Witch Project as the creator of this format.  The truth is, it stretches as far back as 1980 with the widely banned Cannibal Holocaust, which many viewers had originally conceived to be actual footage.  The format has sense been adapted for numerous pictures, from the Spanish zombie flick [REC] and its American counterpart, Quarantine, Paranormal Activity, and my personal favorite, Cloverfield.  Hell, the format existed in literature long before the advent of the motion picture – Bram Stoker’s Dracula being a key entry – but that’s a different story.
"Having trouble finding a  usable image from The Blair Witch Project?  Me too."
And people like to complain about this format being overused and overplayed now, but take a second to count how many mainstream horror movies hit the theaters.  Now, how many of those use the found footage style?  Don’t ask me, I already know it’s a lower percent than horror movies with bare tits.  I don’t know why people are so fed up with this format, other than the modern consumer of American cinema wanting the narrative to be spoon-fed to them with as little resistance as possible.  I do know, though, why the format works so well for horror and not so much for anything else.

That reason is psychological. 

Seeing these films told from the first person has two startling effects on the entertaining viewer.  The first and most obvious is that it puts the audience in the front seat.  In these films, you are no longer watching the events from afar, tucked safe under a fluffy blanket in your mom’s basement, chewing on stale bubblegum.  In these pictures, you’re thrown into the action, becoming a forced participant.  You are now seeing the images in the first hand, as they unfold.  When everyone’s dead and there’s no one left to reset the camera, then dead, too, are your chances of ever escaping.  [REC] and its American remake Quarantine are a shining example of this, as we watch the events from beginning to end, nearly uncut.  The fear is palpable, the struggle for survival and the realization of unquestionable doom so thick that it weighs you down.

The second reason the format works well for horror movies, and logically the more compelling of the two, is because it draws the attention away from the cause or the scenario and instead forces the focus onto the human victims.  This is never more apparent than 2008’s Cloverfield.  If Cloverfield had been shot in a standard format, it would have been easily dismissed as just another Godzilla clone.  Instead, the format kept the action with the drama of the daring young cast as they fought for survival.  By limiting the view of the monster to strictly what the characters on screen see, we are able to embody their curiosity, their fear, and their panic.  The beauty of the film is we don’t know any more about what’s happening than they do.  Cloverfield audiences were outraged by the film’s presentation because they walked in expecting a monster-filled extravaganza and were given, instead, and emotional and turbulent story that was entirely human.
"Found footage?  Let's give it another go.  Hair o' the dog, they say."
This next part will take it all back to The Blair Witch Project.  From a creators’ standpoint, the found footage format is an intriguing concept because it allows for greater suspension of disbelief.  Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in the form of collected articles to lend it credibility and to, in a way, recreate the tradition or oral story telling.  These events are easier to swallow when we allow ourselves to believe we’re watching actual events rather than a collection of orchestrated and edited sound and video.

The same goes for The Blair Witch Project.

And for the most part, this creative deception worked – from websites advertising the search for the missing trio of student filmmakers, to hoards of street teamers hanging fliers around their towns, to television documentaries in the months leading up to the film’s release, the creative minds behind its creation wanted us to believe those tapes were real.  Eduardo Sanchez will be paying for his tremendous success until the day he dies as he tries to become anything other than “That Guy Who Made The Blair Witch Project.”

Well, when he starts making movies worth a damn, maybe he’ll have a better shot.  He was the head behind the reflective ornaments Altered and Seventh Moon, and the word on the street is he’s now working on a film called Exists, which – no shit – is about a group of Texan teenagers being stalked by none other than Bigfoot himself (I actually hope, for Sanchez’s sake, that there was an error in translation somewhere on that one and I’ve got my facts horribly wrong).  But when I saw the trailer for Lovely Molly, I’d thought for a moment that maybe, just maybe, this would be the movie where he got his legs back.

Sadly, I was wrong. 

Lovely Molly is the story of the young, all-American newlywed couple, the titular Molly, and her husband, Timmy.  Like so many other young American couples, the two find themselves in financial strain, and, to save money, they move into Molly’s childhood home, which has stood abandoned since the death of her father when she was just a child.  Everything goes alright until she opens a closet and offers her hand to – well, we don’t know.  This is the beginning of Sanchez’s deception.

The scene opens with the same kind of pleading confession as The Blair Witch Project.  As I settled down with a pair of gasping pugs to watch the movie, I thought, this again, okay.  I’d hate to see Sanchez get typecast, but if it meant he’d be making quality movies, it might be worth it.  Moments later, the camera format shifts to a more standard presentation.  This is always tricky.  It’s never a good idea to bounce between the first-person and the third person with no excuse, seemingly at random (I’m talking to you, District 9), but I decided to give Lovely Molly a chance.

I’m glad I didn’t overlook it for that reason, because Sanchez actually utilized the found footage format in a smart and rather unique way.  During key sequences interlaced throughout the overall narrative, Molly begins taking evening treks into the woods behind her house.  Her motives aren’t immediately apparent, but instead of filming it from her perspective ala 1978’s Halloween, Sanchez opts to instead use the footage from the video camera she carries on her nightly stalking adventures.  Now that this potential meltdown is diverted, let’s move on to the mess surrounding the rest of the movie.

Once, I thought it would be cool to toss all of my unused electronic cables into a bin so I’d always know where they are.  Brilliant, right?  Yeah, until I lost my old Gameboy adapter and had to pull out my spare and realized I never wound up any of those old cords.  The result was a massive knot made up of loose ends unfulfilled hopes.  Yeah, that’s Lovely Molly, alright.

It’s worth noting right off that bat that much of the acting was top-notch, especially from newcomer Gretchen Lodge in her lead debut.  She hands down owns the picture, performing much of it alone, and spending much of that time in the buff.  She’s fearless, dedicated, and convincing in her portrayal of a young woman with a troubled past that’s caught up to her.  Or, maybe she’s possessed?  No, the house is haunted, right?
Sorry, Gretchen, you're not getting paid more for all the weird sex stuff.
Hell, even if you haven’t seen the movie, you may know just as much about it as I do.  For the entire length of the film, Sanchez is trying to dupe us into believing any one of the three possibilities, any number of which may be wrong.  His greatest success in The Blair Witch Project was tricking so many people into believing such a silly story, sure, but what’s the point here?  Looking back at movies like this – The Amityville Horror, for example – this lack of clarity is typically the kind of thing that infuriates viewers, so why would he intentionally toss it at the people paying to see his movie?

This actually began long before the film’s release.  Remember those six teaser short’s I mentioned?  These short films were released on the world wide web in the weeks leading up to the film, two for each theory, between demonic possession, abusive history, and haunting.  They are presented in the same pseudo-documentary format as much of the Blair Witch Project propaganda was, utilizing a ridiculous narration that seems that it would be more at home as a queue narration at Disneyland than a promotion for a horror film.

In the movie itself, scenes are tossed together with stacking evidence for either scenario – from episodic tantrums, creepy moaning closets, a bunch of weird rapey stuff, second-handed conversations, we can’t tell if Molly is facing ghosts, demons, or a history of repressed sexual and physical abuse finally taking their toll.  What we do know is that Molly has a history with drugs, her father was likely to be an abusive man after the death of her mother, and he died in the house she is now residing in.  But no matter how much evidence Sanchez throws into the mix, it’s all for waste by the film’s conclusion.  Don’t rush me, though, I’ll get to it.

Now, I started to get hopeful.  For much of the film, we’re never shown any monsters or ghouls or devil babies.  We hear sounds, sure, and we watch, despairingly, as Molly descends into a deep, traumatic madness.  Everything can point back to mental illness, to a psyche being shattered by the painful remembrance of her past as she continues to live in her childhood home.  We’re talking about an abusive father, molestation, and isolation, the same stuff that drove poor Molly to drug use.  We watch her return to that state of mind, and we watch her pain as she tries to confront it.

What a beautiful device that would have been, a story about trauma and bad memories – our metaphorical ghosts made literal by an unstable mind in danger of collapsing.  We could only be so lucky.  Here’s where I ought to warn you, as you’re new to my style and I’m new to yours.  I’m gonna talk about the end of the movie here, so if you wanna split, do it now.  Like I said, all of this mounting evidence means very little by the conclusion of the film. 
Fresh from the Gwar concert.
We find Molly at the bottom of the well – she is now a murderer, a stalker, she’s shunned her sister, lost her husband, she’s trapped in a house full of bad memories, a possible devil infestation, and maybe ghosts.  What a drag, right?  Well, it gets worse.  With nothing left to cling to, she finally succumbs.  In a scene that’s disturbingly and obscenely sexual in the worst kind of ways, she accepts her demons, whether they’re the scars of her past, a ghost in the closet, or, well, actual demons.

And, as it turns out, demons were exactly what it was. 

After she’s finished giving up the rest of her innocence in her old childhood bedroom, she morosely marches down the stairs, and out the front door.  Waiting in the yard for her, arms outstretched, is some kind of devil with the face of a horse.  No, not Sarah Jessica Parker, I mean, a literal horse.  But it doesn’t look scary.  I mean, I’d be willing to give this thing a hug, regardless of whatever kind of ordeal happened in the upstairs bedroom.  It looked like something from the goddamn Muppets.

In a short epilogue, Molly’s sister (whose name I can’t remember, but is played by Alexandra Holden) walks through the house, investigating the empty rooms and eerie doorways.  In her upstairs bedroom, she discovers the family photo album, where Molly had replaced her father’s face with the heads of horses.  Then, she looks up to the closet, opens it in a manner identical to that of Molly, and BAM, she, too, is introduced to the evil forces of the closet, same as her sister.
Sanchez is the rapey-looking one in the back.
Providing those two ending scenes, it’s unlikely that any psychological ties can be made.  To me, that seems an awful shame.  The idea seemed crisp and oddly romantic to me as I watched and hoped for something original or marginally inspiring from the genre and Sanchez.  That very small twist would have made the picture a heartbreaking segue into the deterioration of the human mind in the face of a true human horror instead of bleeding into the background with all the other haunted and/or demonic house movies.

If you’re still interested in seeing it (you must be, or else you wouldn’t have gotten this far into the article), then you can find it on DVD wherever bad horror movies are sold on August 28.