A Woman Under the Influence

Possession movies are always predicated on bad influence. Often these influences come from an outside malicious force, one that wants to cause death and pain to an innocent person. A good example of this is William Friedkin’s The Exorcist where a little girl is possessed for no other reason than to create doubt and terror. Eduardo Sánchez’s Lovely Molly posits possession as not merely a malevolent influence, but rather an addiction. The movie shifts between camcorder footage and traditional camera work to create an immersive, tightly drawn drama about addiction and the inability to let go of a traumatic past. The film begins with Molly (Gretchen Lodge) staring into the camera. Through tear stained eyes, she tells the camera what’s happened isn’t her fault. From here, the movie slowly shows Molly’s descent into insanity as she is possessed by the evil influence of her deceased father.

The parallel between Molly’s addiction and her influence offers a possession film that isn’t about innocence, but rather the power of environment to shape reality. Molly’s husband,Tim (Johnny Lewis) is a truck driver who is absent for long stretches, leaving her to occupy the large rambling farmhouse in which she grew up. By placing Molly as the main character, the viewer moves through her stages of possession, experiencing her loneliness and temptation with drugs, her rape by an invisible assailant and her eventual discovery of other dark secrets. More than a possession movie, Lovely Molly is about  a woman under the influence, trapped by poverty and abuse. Her slide into darkness doesn’t come from partying, but living in the same house where her father abused her. The movie is a play on the haunted house. Though there is a rambling farm house with hidden chambers freighted with mysterious meanings, the real haunted space is  Molly’s psyche.

Subtly hinting at her abuse, she gradually becomes the abuser. Perhaps the most frightening scene is Molly’s attack on her husband. The scene begins as a show of intimacy, of physical embrace as her husband tries to pry Molly out of near catatonia. The kiss references the beginning of the film where we see them embrace at their wedding. Molly’s kiss turns dangerous though as she bites down on her husband’s lip. He screams and cries, begging her to let him go. The camera lingers, never turning away from the physical violence. The scene is horrific because it shows a gesture of physical connection transformed into violence. This moment becomes a metaphor for the entire movie and the viewer is exposed to many events that allude to the binary of love and violence.

Eventually Molly embraces the infection of her past, using this to effectively kill her present. Perhaps the most haunting visual is Molly’s rebirth as the entity that is fully engulfed with her abusive past. The scene begins with Molly on her bedroom floor. She’s naked and weeping, having just committed three murders. Suddenly she stops as if hearing a secret siren. Standing, her eyes glazed as if in a trance, she walks to the front door. The door swings wide, revealing the darkness of the yard. As Molly steps outside the viewer discovers a looming figure, appearing out of the darkness. The figure is grotesquely tall with long stalk-like hands and an exaggerated equine face. The power of the visual is the mystery of the figure. The viewer only catches a brief glimpse of this monster, a large outline as it lifts those long arms and pulls Molly to its dark bosom. We are given vague clues as the significance of the demon. Molly’s father raised horses and the viewer catches glimpses of a tableau in a subterranean well with a similar creature. We are never given an explicit description of what this demon is and the viewer is given to believe, rightly, that the demon is Molly’s own personal one.

Horror generally has two basic schools of thought. One is that other people are hell, they can and will do horrible violence mainly for control. The second class of thought is that hell is yourself, the twisting gyre of our own psyche, the uncanny other that lives within our own minds. The fear and degradation are generated by the engines of our own thoughts and emotions and whatever violence lives there is executed with the idea of bringing an inner reality into the “real” world. Molly’s journey is the latter. A symbol of this is the constant reference throughout the movie to closets. Early on, Molly hears the sound of crying coming from a closet, the sound of a child’s tears. Later, when she attacks her husband, she is hiding in a closet, making an effort to secret herself from a world that insists on intrusion. After Molly embraces the demon figure, the movie jumps ahead.

Molly’s sister, Hannah (Alexandra Holden) visits Molly’s house which is now for sale. The viewer gets no explanation as to what has happened–is Molly a criminal? Has she disappeared? Hannah’s sister walks through their family home and comes upon a photograph album lying in the middle of the bedroom. She flips through the pages, looking at photos taken from her childhood. She smiles, until the pictures of her father appears. The photographs have been cut out and replaced with pictures of horse heads. Her sister flips through the album, all the pictures now replaced. Molly’s memories have been reduced, dressed figuratively as animalistic expressions. A sound comes from the bedroom closet and Hannah stands, walking towards a noise only she can hear. Looking inside, she lifts her fingers as if to grasp an outreached hand. The viewer is given no more than this, a gesture of connection, christened in the birthplace of violence and trauma. The presumptive figure of Molly reaches out, bringing the inside outward, infecting her sister with a troubling past. Lovely Molly is a film about environment, how trauma mortared into the foundation of person can reappear in their life like fate. The point of the movie is well-placed, namely that there are no haunted houses only haunted people.         

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