Already languishing in the $6.99 bin at my local Blockbuster, and with dismal reviews on its release, my hopes for The Haunting of Molly Hartley were not high. However, after viewing the DVD I can safely report that the movie falls firmly into the ‘not anywhere as awful as I thought it was going to be’ category.
This is not an endorsement. The movie is by no means good, but nowhere near as wretched as I’d been set up to believe.
The story concerns a young prep-school student, Molly, who is going through some difficulties. She and her father have just moved to a new town, so she has all the ‘new girl trying to fit in’ difficulties, leading to some Mean Girls-style conflicts. She is attracted to the hunky big-man-on-campus, which puts her in the sights of the aforementioned mean girl. Her only two friends are a clingy religious nut (you can tell because she is the only girl in school without elaborately styled hair or makeup) and the resident misunderstood bad girl (you can tell because she smokes in the bathroom and wears tattered fishnets with her school uniform). Also, her mother recently tried to murder her with a pair of scissors and is locked away in the local laughing academy.
Molly’s problems are amplified by the fact that she is afflicted by dark visions and hallucinations that may mean she is heading down the same path to mental illness taken by her mother, or it could mean something darker. Put your money on option two.
The film moves along and the performances are uniformly decent but, instead of developing, the plot just sort of happens. Relationships that have had almost no screen time – in fact, they seem to have had no offscreen time either, since the movie appears to take place over less than a week total – seem way closer than they should be. The screenplay comes across like the product of one of those 24 hour writing competitions; it’s like they took twenty writers, put them in a room overnight, gave them a slip of paper with a list of keywords on it, and started the clock. In this case, the keywords were ‘Carrie’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, and ‘Mean Girls’. The end result is a sloppy, shallow script with little wit and an underwhelming final act.
The big question that’s left is, is the movie scary? The answer is, for the most part, no. It has a few creepy moments, but for a movie involving Satan-worship and the buying and selling of children’s souls, the stakes never really feel all that high. The scariest parts of the film are a never-ending stream of cheap jolts, ranging from scary dogs and cats jumping out in a startling fashion to scary mail being delivered, also in a startling fashion. The whole thing plays like a made for television movie, complete with actors on furlough from successful network shows. There’s an actor named Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl (where he presumably plays a hunky guy, possibly even a big-man-on-campus), and there’s also the actor from Medium who also played the sensible guy in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Though the main effect his presence had on me was making me wish the movie had a little zombie-killing. At the very least it would have made the ending more interesting, and might even have helped it make more sense.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and, for the most part, the quality is decent. The picture is reasonably clear and the transfer seems clean. Most of the scenes take place in brightly-lit rooms or in daylight, and when this is the case there’s nothing to complain about. However, during night scenes or scenes with shadow the darks get a little bit muddy-looking.
The audio is in 5.1 Dolby Surround (both English and French). The quality of the sound is acceptable for the most part, but could definitely be clearer, especially with dialogue. There aren’t really any big showcase sound effect moments but when sound does peak, there is noticeable distortion. As for the surround channels, they’re under-utilized, but when they are used, it’s to good effect, especially when there’s creepy whispering on the soundtrack. And there is a lot of creepy whispering on this soundtrack.
Cast and Crew Interviews: This feature contains several subcategories to choose from, with probing topics like ‘Haley Bennett on: What Attracted Her to the Character’ and ‘The Challenge of the Role’. These questions are answered in a ridiculous and shallow manner that borders on pompous, with gems like, “…you just have to completely surrender yourself to everything that’s going on around you and be completely in the moment”, and the importance of “being emotionally available at all times”. Haley also talks about how she looked forward to shooting days where she didn’t have to cry or act afraid. It’s like Sir Ian McKellan explaining acting to Ricky Gervais on Extras, but she is not doing parody. We are also treated to director Mickey Liddell raving about the awesomeness of his lead. I haven’t seen a director this excited about an unremarkable actress since Joss Whedon raved about Michelle Trachtenberg in an interview for one of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer box sets.
Each interview question runs around a minute.
Theatrical Trailer (2:27): Wait. This thing ran in theaters? Wow, and Michelle Pfeiffer is making films that are going straight to video. We are living in the Bizarro world. Anyway, this is one of those horrible trailers that pretty much give away every single twist and surprise in the movie.
There isn’t much to recommend here. As stated earlier, the cast is not bad, but nobody is very good either. I didn’t personally grow to dislike anyone involved until I watched the special features though, and the story kept me just interested enough not to turn off my DVD player in a fit of pique. So there’s that I guess.