The way that "Lovely Molly" starts out really makes you believe that Sanchez is going to try and reclaim his status as King of Found Footage (or at least Granddad of Found Footage), as we watch a happy couple – Molly (Gretchen Lodge, with her "Rosemary's Baby"-by-way-of-Walmart bob) and Tim (Johnny Lewis) – get married. The occasion is almost suspiciously sunny, all beaming family and friends and the whole world ahead of them. After the wedding they move into Molly's family farmhouse, a rambling old estate nestled deep in the woods (it's never stated explicitly but they seem to be somewhere in the "Winter's Bone" south). At some point the style abruptly shifts to a more traditional approach, which gives us greater insight into Molly's character (Tim is a truck driver and spends much of the movie away). We watch as she works her crappy job as a custodian at a local mall, and gain insight into her experiences in the house through occasional found footage interludes where she tape records a confessional or uses the night vision option to peer inside the creepy basement (Is that some occult symbol down there? Is their house built on top of a Hellmouth?)
As the movie progresses, it takes on overtones of "Repulsion," as we watch Molly grow more and more insane, distancing herself from her sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden) and getting fired from her job at the mall. Molly is also a recovering addict and, wouldn't you know it, her slip into psychosis and the possible haunting of the house leads her to start using. Three different tracts swirl within the house – her mental collapse, the possible haunting (she hears her father, who we assume was a Not Very Nice Man), and something even spookier and more supernatural – a kind of demonic possession. For the most part Sanchez keeps the balls in the air, although sometimes he lets one drop and the movie either seems to halt altogether, or tumble away from him.
"Lovely Molly" really is an old fashioned horror movie, much more straightlaced and buttoned-down than "The Blair Witch Project." It's reminiscent not only of paranoid shockers like "Repulsion" but also of the kind of creaky haunted house movies like "The Changeling," sometimes coming across as a low rent "The Exorcist" (there's even a morally dubious priest) or "Poltergeist." But it's a testament to the film's funhouse power that it doesn't ever feel like it's tipping its hat too much to these earlier films, as most modern horror movies have become an obnoxious list of call-backs and references, with very little original content. "Lovely Molly" has enough to make it feel new.
But "Lovely Molly" needed a little more oomph, a little more sizzle, and, most importantly, a little more humor, to sustain itself. A more recent movie that "Lovely Molly" will remind you of is "Black Swan," although that film was unafraid to thread the needle, walking that fine line between high art and extreme kitsch. The result of that tonal high wire act was a movie at once hilariously funny and deeply, profoundly unsettling. "Lovely Molly" just aims for the profoundly unsettling and without that component of humor, doesn't quite succeed. It will scare you alright, but it won't stick with you. Maybe if it had that little bit of humor (and delineated its threads of malevolence), it would have. [B]