Fox // 2008 // 82 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 24th, 2009
This Halloween her past is yet to come.
Religion and horror cinema have birthed a number of memorable offspring, from still-chilling offerings like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby to the often-sequeled and remade The Omen. It's a natural alliance: horror is often about what goes bump in the night, and religion tries to explain much of that bumping. Plus, the devil makes a heck of a cinematic villain. For The Haunting of Molly Hartley, though, we only get a halfhearted religion/horror hybrid. Most of the film is teen melodrama, and when the funky stuff really kicks in, the film goes from boring teen melodrama to predictable slice-and-dice, ending on a note of silly irony.
The film opens on a young woman walking through the woods towards a remote cabin to meet her boyfriend. Things, however, are not as nice as they seem, because the young woman appears to be hearing voices. Her father shows up to stop her boyfriend's overtures, insisting that she come home with him immediately. Once she joins him in the care, he becomes increasingly agitated and crashes the car in an attempt to kill her for reasons unknown. It ends with him drive a shard of mirror into the young woman. The film then cuts to the present day and the life of Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett, Music and Lyrics), who is living alone with her dad (Jake Weber, Meet Joe Black) and starting at a new school. She obviously has some issues with her mom, and Molly may be hearing voices much like those of the girl from the prologue. As things get weirder in Molly's life, she begins to uncover her mother's secrets while discovering some nasty truths about her own life.
Who is Molly Hartley? She's mentioned in the title of the darn film. About all we know of her is that she's being haunted. I watched an 82-minute movie about her, and pretty much all I learned was that she has mommy and daddy issues, likes boys, and is smart enough to take calculus. I don't really know anything else about her character (except the stuff that the plot reveals about her birth towards the end, which really doesn't illuminate her much). She goes to an exclusive prep school, has a "Bible thumper" for a friend, and has a crush on the handsomest boy in school. These are mere biographical details and describe a staggering number of young women. Because I don't really know much at all about Molly Hartley, it was really hard to care that she was being haunted.
Because Molly Hartley isn't worth much to the movie, that leaves the haunting. The film's opening scene is obviously meant to make the audience so curious they'll put up with an hour's worth of teen-angst melodrama to discover why Molly and the girl from the prologue have such nasty parents. Trust me, the revelation isn't worth the wait. I won't give the details, but if you've seen one movie featuring hauntings and the devil, you'll catch on pretty quickly. We discover everything there is to know about Molly's past about an hour into the film, and the final 20 minutes consist of watching the domino characters fall one by one into predictable actions. I'll admit that the revelation of Molly's backstory wasn't that bad, but every single moment after that was obnoxiously predictable. It was easy to see who was going to be "good" and "bad" at the film's end (hint, all the previous "good" people are going to turn out to be "bad," and all the "bad" people turn out to be good. It's amazing!). It wasn't enough to make the audience sit through angsty teenage garbage, no, the filmmakers had to throw in some of the worst horror I've seen in a film that cost more than a box of cereal to produce.
Did I mention it's PG-13? Gore and terrible monsters don't necessarily make a good movie, but when a horror film has no teeth, it doesn't have much hope of sinking anything into the audience to keep them interested or make them care.
Fox sent over a screener, so the quality of the eventual release is difficult to judge. The film's transfer looks pretty good, appropriately bright in the outdoor scenes without losing detail during the darker scenes. There was some obvious degradation of the image for this screener, so I hope (for those who have to watch this film) that the detail level is higher on the production DVD. The voices in Molly's head provide some nice audio, with a decent of use of the surrounds, for what that's worth. For extras, there are a number of interviews with the actors and the director. Much like the film, I'd say skip it, as they didn't reveal anything particularly interesting about the film or its production. There was also a trailer.
All is not lost, however. The cinematography of The Haunting of Molly Hartley has a luminous quality that I much admire. It seemed as if the actors, especially Haley Bennett, were somehow lit from inside, as if their own inner light was being shown on screen. Of course, I had much time to study the cinematography because the story failed to capture my attention.
Unlike many horror movies of this type/budget, the acting in Haunting is actually pretty good. Most of the younger cast is walking stereotypes. Scratch that, everyone in this film is a walking stereotype, but the "teen" actors do a decent job of getting the lines out without being hammy or looking bored. The one light in the film is Jake Weber, playing Molly's long-suffering father. He brings a level of commitment and gravitas to the production that the story can't hope to match.
Unless you need a Halloween film to scare the 10-12 crowd (and this might not be suitable for them, what with the devil angle and all), steer clear of The Haunting of Molly Hartley. The story takes too long to get up and running, and once it does it progresses so obviously that it's not worth watching anyway. This screener from Fox suggests that the technical and supplemental features are going to be fine, but not outstanding.
Guilty of failing to scare.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13