Monday, June 6, 2011

REVIEW: The Haunting of Molly Hartley (2008)

This review was co-written by Sol and Tzeentch. It is our first collaborative effort, with all three of us contributing to the jokes and observations therein.

Uh…well…yeah, I don’t even know; just start the review.

Director: Mickey Liddell
Starring: Haley Bennett, Chace Crawford

The Haunting of Molly Hartley starts out with some GRIPPING TENSION by showing us a hot chick in the woods following a trail of little post-it notes on string. Because…that couldn’t ever go wrong, right? If I saw post-it notes attached to string, I’d follow them without any question or hesitation too! Oh, wait; no I wouldn’t. I’m not a complete idiot. She eventually comes to this cabin in the woods and, like any other sensible person would do, she approaches, is attacked by a cheap jump scare, goes in, and is attacked by…wait for it…ANOTHER CHEAP JUMP SCARE!

Seriously, what kind of Neanderthal actually needs a sign on the door to tell them to enter? Isn't that common knowledge by the 21st century?

Oh, wait, this jump scare is actually her boyfriend, who apparently thought it was a romantic idea to take her out in the woods and scare her on her birthday in a desolate cabin far away from any civilization. Good thing these people live in idyllic white suburbia – otherwise they might actually be in danger of this plan going wrong somehow! He tells her he wants to marry her, but then an Ed Harris stand-in barges in and takes her away. Apparently this is her father, who is so broken up that his daughter, who is about to have her 18th birthday, is actually portrayed by a 25 year old actress, he tries to kill her.

I guess the pretentiousness of this camera angle killed the girl, not that knife...

After that bit of awkwardness, a title screen informs us that our crash course through cinematic pointlessness has arrived in the present day, with our titular character, Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett). Gee, since her name is in the title, it must mean she’s a really important and pivotal character, right? Nope, she’s just an average horror chick, with nothing too extraordinary about her at all. And while I’m at it; good luck finding any ‘haunting’ in this movie, either…but we’ll get to that later. I apologize for the divergence, but if you had seen this movie, you’d want to skip ahead as fast as possible too.

So Molly is starting out at a new school in a new town, where at school she quickly makes friends with the nerdy and completely unlikable Bible-thumping Jesus-freak girl of the school, is scorned by the snooty blonde girl and is hit on by the most awkward guys on this side of Steve Carell, whose idea of flirting consists mostly of bugging her to get in his car incessantly and making horrible jokes. God, this guy is so annoying that he’s like one of those little Chihuahuas who just won’t shut up until you give it a piece of ham.

"Will you go out with me? Will you go out with me? WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME? WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME?!"

Oh yeah, and Molly also has some seriously freaky visions and headaches!

"Welcome to Xavier's School of Mutants, Molly."

Coincidence? I think not.

The movie just kind of…stumbles along blindly for a while, as we learn that Molly’s mother tried to kill her for some reason and was sent away to an asylum, declared crazy, and Molly is still pretty broken up about it, if you consider seeing constant hallucinations of her everywhere “being broken up about it.” One day in class (apparently the only class any of these kids have to attend, as we never see any other ones), the teacher hands out Bibles to help them understand Milton’s Paradise Lost – seriously, I’m pretty sure high school students can get the basic gist of the poem without Bibles to help. I know it’s a heavily religious text, but still.

"Oh, the humanity..."

Then of course you get one idiot acting like it’s a personal affront that they have to have the Bibles at all, and the stuck-up religious chick says that the Bible is the truth and it’s insulting that they have to read it like it’s ‘just another schoolbook’…god, this character is terrible. I really have to say something about this, because it’s really bugging me now. This character is garbage. I don’t even care if people want to tell me they know people like this, and that means it’s realistic. It’s annoying and lessens my appreciation for the movie every time she opens her mouth. Realism doesn’t always mean ‘good,’ or even ‘tolerable.’ Sometimes, as here, it just means ‘this is hideous, annoying twaddle and I wish it would stop abusing my ears.’

So Molly gets a nosebleed and has to go to the bathroom to clean up. She has a panic attack and thinks her mother is after her or something, but it’s really all just in her head. But she does have some kind of seizure and passes out. They do the logical thing and send her straight to the school guidance counselor’s office – yup, they don’t even send her to a hospital or anything. They just send her to the guidance counselor. Because the guidance counselor is a perfectly fine substitute for someone who should be able to administer serious medical help. Who wrote this movie again? Monkeys?

After that contrived scene we go back to Molly’s room, where she takes off her shirt in front of the camera – yeah, a 17 year old girl’s partially naked body is the fanservice in this movie, did you think it could get any less charming? – and puts on some different shirt, then going and taking some pills from the sliding glass cabinet in her bathroom. There’s another cheap jump scare that I think the movie stole from The Grudge, before she has another panic attack and this time faints. She actually is taken to the hospital (wait! What about the guidance counselor?! Can’t she help?) this time, where they tell her that the reason she’s been seeing things and having scary The Grudge-esque jump scares is actually because she has a small tumor in her brain.

…yeah. I’m dead serious about that – a tumor. I have to give this movie credit for not taking the obvious route. I mean did they really just say that the root of all the supernatural crap happening in this movie so far isn’t actually real, but the result of a tumor? What a refreshingly realistic twist! Let’s see how that logic would hold up in other movies:

"There is no Freddy, Nancy; you just have a tumor!"
"...oh. Then how did I get these cuts and burns on my arm?"
"You abuse yourself in your sleep. You're actually crazy and need to be locked up."
"Jack isn't possessed. He just has a tumor!"
"Oh. Well, how does that help us get out of this situation when he's carrying around a big ax?"
"....good point."

OK, so she gets back to school and finds out that everyone’s talking about her because she got sent to the hospital, even though it happened at home and you’d think people would have something else to talk about. But she gets a warm welcome back from creepy stalker boy, who actually stops her by putting a Lacrosse stick in front of her and blocking her way. It’s a good thing she somehow finds that charming, because he invites her to his random Tuesday night house party that very night. She decides to go when one of her friends goads her into it.

At the party, creepy stalker boy gives her a drink which I initially thought probably had some kind of sedative in it, because after all his badgering to get her in his car, I figured he had gotten desperate. But after the school’s #1 snooty blonde girl starts picking a fight with her, I think the drink had some of Captain America’s Super Serum in it, because she just breaks the girl’s arm like it’s a twig! Then she decides she doesn’t like having superpowers and leaves the party in a hurry. She travels through the bad part of town:

One hungry dog behind a fence? THAT'S JUST GHETTO, MAN! GET OUTTA THERE, WHITE GIRL!

After another panic attack, in which she thinks her mother is attacking and trying to kill her (not much imagination for panic attacks), she goes home and the scene cuts to the next day, where at school she’s hassled by boring conversations with the guidance counselor, the creepy stalker boy and the irritating religious girl, all of whom want nothing more than to help her. How about just leaving the poor girl alone for five seconds, guys? I mean…geez.

Then at home she’s confronted by another spooky vision of her crazy mom trying to kill her again. Oh, wait. It’s real this time! Yes, it’s actually real now…how confusing. The mom starts telling her all this stuff about how she died when she was born due to the mother’s water breaking too early and there being no-one around to help. She says that a strange woman offered her a chance for Molly to live again, except at her 18th birthday she would turn evil. Because the mother was an idiot who listened to random strangers proposing ridiculous and far-fetched schemes…yeah, now Molly’s soul belongs to Satan.

OK, so that’s all fine and dandy, but here’s my problem with this whole scene: Molly’s mother waited until now, long after she had been hospitalized and had to get a nurse to break her out, to tell her this whole story, this whole explanation behind what’s been going on all movie long. She didn’t think to tell her the backstory the first time she tried to kill her (i.e. when Molly still trusted her mother…); no – she waits until the last possible second before her daughter’s 18th birthday, when this whole evil-conversion/soul-selling thing is supposed to happen. There are so many things that could have gone wrong here. What if the nurse didn’t want to break her out of the asylum? What if she was somehow set back and didn’t make it in time? What if Molly’s father had been home and caught her before she did anything? This makes no sense and the movie is dumb and wretched.

So Molly kills her mother by accident, then her father comes home and tries to have her committed, and so she hits him and knocks him out – because THAT won’t make them think she’s crazy at all! Molly runs around trying to get people to help her. First she tries the awful Christian girl, who actually takes her to be baptized (is she even licensed to do this? She’s just a high school kid). Unfortunately, it was all a trick, because awful Christian girl actually knows someone at the mental institution Molly’s mother was at, how convenient. She tries to kill Molly but Molly uses her super strength powers to break away, running away in a hurry.

She then meets creepy stalker boy and tells him the whole story, which he takes very readily and tells her he’ll take her away from her situation and they’ll run away together. Gee, guy; what if she’s lying and actually IS crazy? That’d be a bit stupid, then…but it’s OK, because SHOCK AND AWE! He’s in on it too! Except he, along with the school’s guidance counselor, is actually aligned with the Devil and wants her to change. That makes no sense, but OK. She turns evil, starts dating creepy stalker boy, becomes a valedictorian and locks her dad in a mental institution AND…then the movie’s over.

Almost like an Obama rally, huh? HUH? *crickets*

No, I’m serious; that’s the ending. And there are two things I want to bring up with this.

1.    OK…her life is actually better after this evil conversion. Seriously, she’s now a valedictorian, dating a rich guy who is, in all reality outside of being evil, a really successful person, and is more confident and self-assured. In what alternate reality are these bad things? Is the movie trying to suggest that she was better off as a depressed, borderline psychotic loner with few friends and a bucketload of teenage insecurities?

2.    THE ENDING IS BASICALLY ROSEMARY’S BABY. Seriously; lead female protagonist who has sensed all movie that something is horribly wrong is suddenly confronted with the fact that everyone she thought was inconspicuous is actually conspiring to some evil satanic power. IT’S THE SAME THING. NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL. Has this movie no shame?

"I'm ready to use this, you know..."

So, yeah, this is ridiculous garbage. The story is boring and the movie as a whole is soulless and vapid, as well as outright offensive to the viewer’s intelligence at several points. It could have even been a good movie! Maybe if they actually elaborated some more on this whole devil-worshiping cult thing, it might have been something interesting. But no, we just get Milquetoast Horror Generica: White Boy Edition #5775. It takes itself way too seriously and has a billion plot holes but no likable characters - not exactly the best trade. It’s just a pointless, unpleasant movie to watch, and I think it should have been axed in the drawing room before its evil was allowed to manifest, just like Molly’s mom in the movie tried to do to her. That would have been a mercy-killing.

Some of these images - the ones not from the movie - are not mine, and they are copyright of their original owners.