Whew! One final draw from The Great Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Coffee Can Of Cinema! And what a doozy this one is—The Haunting Of Molly Hartley. What’s so doozified about it? It’s one of those fun cinematic experiences during which I find myself thinking “Wait. Have I seen this?” without ever managing to come up with a definitive answer.
For one thing, I confused it with Lovely Molly which I liked very much. They do have some common ground in a sense. Namely everyone thinks the victim is insane rather than possessed/demonic. People are so shortsighted.
Anyway, The Haunting Of Molly Hartley starts off with a girl named Laurel (not Molly) following a string through the woods. She pauses briefly, and we hear whispery disembodied voices. Like ya do.
Soon Laurel comes to a cabin. There she finds her boyfriend who’s waiting to give her an early present for her 18th birthday. They kiss. Bleh. Then her dad shows up and demands she come home with him.
On the ride back, he speeds up whilst muttering with his hand on a bible about not letting them take her and how he can’t let her turn 18. They nearly crash, but his truck instead skids to a stop just before they’re t-boned by a farm truck carrying hay bales. Inside the wrecked truck, the father Laurel with a broken piece of glass.
So what do we know? Laurel may or may not turn in to something evil. Her father may or may not be delusional. And “they” may or may not be involved. From there we cut to a bloodied teenage girl staggering down a hallway with a pair of scissors sticking out of her chest. She wakes up with a gasp in her bed. Whew, just a nightmare. Welcome to the present. Thus are we introduced to Molly.
Y’see, her mother, we find out, tried to kill her and is now locked up in an asylum. Molly and her father are trying to move on, and Molly is starting a new school. Things, of course, go awry. Molly is plagued by nightmares of her mother trying to kill her and soon starts seeing glimpses of her around town. Her father is only semi-successful in convincing her everything is okay and that her mother will never hurt her again.
If you haven’t seen this, the following discussion may give you a good hint as to where the story’s gonna go. None of it is surprising, but if you wanna go into the movie cold, you should stop reading. On one hand, it turns out Molly is right. Her mother isn’t locked up and still is trying to kill her. On the other hand, how this is possible and how deep all this goes starts to come out around the 65-minute mark.
Turns out there are a couple competing forces at work—those who want to eliminate Molly versus those who want to see her take come into the darkness she’s been selected for. Very Rosemary’s Baby in the sense of how well established these demonic and divine cults are. Molly’s mother, for instance, is freed by local nurse who’s with the believers. The nurses granddaughter Alexis has been posing as Molly’s friend but then tries to drown her in a baptismal pool.
During the final showdown, we find out that Molly’s father made a pact with the evil cult. Molly more or less died being born when her mother went into precipitous labor in a public bathroom. A woman appeared and said “I’m here to make you an offer.” Molly would live, but she would become some kind of demonic entity upon turning 18.
Well dontcha know, dear ol’ dad is dragged in, and Molly is told if she kills him, maybe the pact will be broken. She picks up knife, and stabs herself right at the stroke of midnight. The big reveal I’ll leave alone. Don’t wanna give it all away.
I’m not sure from whence all the hate for this movie derives. I mean, it does have its problems I must say. Stefan S says this at (A Nutshell) Review: “the movie has an entire look and feel of High School Musical, save the characters don’t break out into song and dance.” Truth be told, the male lead does have a certain Zac Efronality. Then there’s the title. Nothing here has anything whatsoever to do with a haunting. Possession, check. Cult, check. No haunting.
It’s pretty damn predictable as well, but also an idea that Ari Aster will resurrect to much greater effect and fanfare with Hereditary. The stories are in fact strikingly similar. I like The Haunting Of Molly Hartley. It’s certainly not the best movie of its kind, but I knew what to expect going in, and that, for good and/or ill, is exactly what I got. Oh, and I still can’t figure out whether or not I’ve seen it before.
BODIES- 3 onscreen, 1 (probably) off
Streaming- ConTV, Tubi