Editor’s note: Sorry this wasn’t up yesterday. It was entirely my fault and I wish I had a big elaborate explanation, but I just forgot. Blame teething-inspired sleep deprivation.
A “Haunting” done strictly by the book
by Jared Peterson
Someday someone will make a horror film that dispenses with story altogether and consists solely of scenes of people turning around, opening and closing mirrored doors and backing slowly away from threats that are actually behind them. In the meantime, there’s The Haunting of Molly Hartley, a bland Halloween treat that uses these well-worn tricks, and little else, to relieve you of a couple of hours.
Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett) is the new girl at Huntington Prep, and, as happens, she instantly finds herself sized up and thrust into a clamoring social melee. By sixth period she’s already caught between Joseph (Chace Crawford, on loan from Gossip Girl), a super-cute guy who sidles up and flirts on cue, and Suzie (AnnaLynne McCord, vacationing from 90210), his snotty queen bee girlfriend. The right people hate her, the wrong people like her and the faculty has its eye on her. But through it all Molly remains somber and guarded, beset by bigger and far darker problems.
You see, some time ago, with no warning at all, Molly was attacked and nearly killed by her own mother, who was convinced her daughter would succumb to a horrible but unspecified evil if she were allowed to live to adulthood. She escaped with her life, barely, but with deep physical and emotional scars. Her mother was committed, and her father brought Molly to a new town for a fresh start. But as she nears her eighteenth birthday, she is plagued by many fears: that her mother will escape; that she herself may fall into madness; or that, somehow, her mother was right, and she is destined to a life of darkness.
I know, right?
The Haunting of Molly Hartley follows a flood of supernatural chillers released in the last few years, flowing in part from the revolutionary work of filmmakers from Asia, particularly Japan. The best of these “J-horror” films were characterized by bizarrely supernatural premises, grotesquely imaginative imagery and an utterly infuriating patience in building the tension that leads to the big scares.
Traditionally, the thriller playbook is wicked simple: set up, misdirect, gotchya! Directors carefully mold the audience’s expectations only to gleefully thwart them. The viewer screams, jumps and, very often, laughs—amused and humbled by their own gullibility, at and having been duped. Paying customers consent to these deceptions; fans crave the joy of the jolt. In Molly Hartley, you get your gotchyas, but they are mostly cut-rate ones—facile, warmed-over tactics (see my opening paragraph) repeated over and over again, dulling their impact. That knowing laughter threatens to reverse course and become cynical. (I knew we’d turned a corner when, after a couple dozen identical boo moments, Molly shrieks and wheels at the thud of a bundle of letters coming through the mail chute. Whatever.)
The film offers a tapas menu of varied menace and violence; for instance, we witness a violent car accident, a disfigured face hallucinated in a mirror and a surgery involving a long metal rod guided into the brain through the nose. Molly delivers some skillful punches, at one point knocking someone out with a single blow. (She is apparently well-trained in something like aikido.) She fights a climactic battle with an attacker who comes to an end flipping over a banister and falling face-first to the floor below onto a shard of glass. Stabbings are alternatively described, overheard, edited away from just in time or witnessed outright.
Kids regularly swear (there’s one f-word), occasionally smoke and, just once, shoplift. We catch Molly in her bra as she changes shirts. In a party scene, she is plied with liquor, which disinhibits her enough to smooch Gossip Boy and scuffle with 90210 Girl—that one ends with Molly deftly snapping a bone in her wrist. Mental illness is generally made light of, as is Christianity. One character is labeled a “Jesus freak” and—deals with the devil notwithstanding—religious belief is treated as a vaguely off-putting and ultimately empty pursuit.
At a November 2nd screening, the following previews were shown: Yes Man (PG-13), a Jim Carrey spazz-fest; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (PG-13), a Holocaust drama; My Bloody Valentine (R), more blood than Valentine, I suspect (the trailer features plenty of the red stuff, some wielded blades, and a brief shot of a woman running for her life in her underwear); and Friday the 13th (R), a hard-core remake of the original horror classic (this trailer belongs to an antisocial fellow named Jason—you do the math).
Jared Peterson scares tens of readers at proweirdo.blogspot.com.