Since parting ways after making the film that, for both better and worse, changed the horror genre, The Blair Witch Project writer/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez have yet to come out with anything noteworthy—until now. Lovely Molly is Sánchez’s fourth feature, and while it incorporates the amateur video format that helped Blair Witch land with such seismic impact, it thankfully doesn’t limit itself to the concept of found footage, using its periodic dips into home movies to showcase its heroine’s isolation. Lovely Molly is a portrait of either spiraling madness or a haunting, and it deftly handles the slow erosion of its title character’s consciousness. Landing somewhere between Repulsion and Paranormal Activity, it keeps the jump scares to a minimum and allows its formidable lead performance to be its best special effect.
The eponymous character, played by newcomer Gretchen Lodge, is freshly married and has moved back to her childhood home with her spouse (Johnny Lewis). He’s a truck driver who’s away for days at a time, while she’s a janitor at the mall. Their economic precariousness is part of the reason they’ve ended up in a situation that, it becomes evident, is the equivalent of an alcoholic taking solo bartending gig. Lodge and her sister (Alexandra Holden) did not grow up in a happy place, and being around traces of their late, abusive father eats away at Lodge—that is, unless it’s actually something supernatural at work. Alone in a creepy, creaky house in the woods, Lodge tries to chronicle the strange goings-on and her growing distress with her camcorder. Her husband’s more concerned she’s relapsing into her former heroin addiction or mental illness, and her sister wants to help her while also struggling through guilt and secrets she doesn’t want aired.
Lovely Molly is Lodge’s film, and she devotes herself to it with a striking lack of vanity. A pretty, tomboyish girl, she manages the air of someone who used to party a lot harder but is earnestly trying to establish a stable, quiet life. The film raises the usual haunted-house questions of why the characters don’t just leave, but finds some answers in its protagonist. As things start to fall apart, she resigns herself to her fate like someone still so internally scarred by her past that she never really believed she’d get away. As a depiction of abuse, it’s more disquieting than any demonic force stomping up the stairs in the dark.