The setup of Lovely Molly isn't terribly new; a young couple, Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) move back into the house where she grew up. Soon after, following what may have been a break in, Molly begins to hear things and behave strangely. Questions linger over whether she is turning back to drugs, whether this is a symptom of a deeper illness, or whether there really is something in the house.
So far, so by the numbers noises off scarer then, but Lovely Molly benefits hugely from a screenplay and central performance that keep the ambiguity of the film alive right up to the end, and that makes the film much more involving than most of the similar fare I've seen lately. As Molly, Gretchen Lodge is in all but two scenes, and she gives a brilliant, layered performance, that never quite allows you to be sure whether Molly is being possessed, haunted, or simply losing her mind. Lodge has to shift her performance dramatically from scene to scene, and run the gamut from terrified, to crazed, to seductive, to being on the verge of a breakdown, that she manages all this, and to give the character a throughline, is the really remarkable aspect of the film.
The fact that the whole film is filtered through Molly and her experiences (including her past experiences, which aren't very surprising when they are revealed, but add to the ambiguity around the character) makes it more than just another horror film where unseen things go bump in the night. It also helps that when things do go bump the sound is loud, jarring, and all around. Sanchez builds your paranoia alongside Molly's to fine effect. It's easy to be invested in Tim and Molly; they come across initially as a nice, normal, loving couple, thanks to an easy seeming chemistry between Lodge and Lewis (who is also excellent as the husband who loves her, but is pushed to breaking point), and this allows the drama of the possibility that Molly is going mad to play just as effectively as the horror that she might not be.
Sanchez mixes media and viewpoints. Some of the film is shot on a digital camcorder with Molly talking directly to camera. This isn't new territory for the director, and it's especially reminiscent of Blair Witch in the opening scene (which ends on an image that haunts the film). I think it works better here, and not just because Lodge is a better actor than any of the Blair Witch cast, but because, although most of the film takes a third person view of the action, it seems to always reflect Molly's experience of events.
I don't want to go into much detail, but the set pieces are extremely well staged and sustained, and the several scenes where we find Molly terrified in her bedroom while something incredibly menacing seems to be just the other side of the door are both scary and haunting. Even in the third act, when it becomes more visceral, the film doesn't lose its grip on its quite particular tone. Sanchez also executes both the suspense and the more visceral moments equally well, with the first bloody moment coming almost out of nowhere to hit you hard and painfully, both because it's so unexpected, and because it's so personal.
For me though, Lovely Molly is set apart not by its scares, but by the sadness that pervades it (which is why I have a few problems with the last two scenes, which, great images though they are, lean a bit too much on the horror). It's a high quality psychological horror film, and it promises good things for the future from Eduardo Sanchez and Gretchen Lodge.