Lovely Molly, the new horror film from Eduardo Sanchez, hits UK cinemas this month. A disturbing study of one woman’s descent into insanity, possession and murder, Lovely Molly is arguably Sanchez’s best film since his 1999 smash, The Blair Witch Project. Starburst’s Jon Towlson sat down with the director to discuss psychological horror in Lovely Molly.
Lovely Molly concerns a young woman’s return to the house of her childhood following her marriage and the death of her father. She soon becomes the victim of a malignant force that manifests itself as slamming doors, clomping horse hooves and a child’s crying. Is Molly falling under the influence of a demon? Is she going insane? Or is her tragic past returning to reclaim her? Afraid to reach out to her husband in case he thinks she has lapsed back into substance abuse, Molly begins to videotape her encounters with the ‘demon’ instead.
Starburst: What drew you to the story?
Eduardo Sanchez: The Exorcist was a movie that had scarred me. Even though I was a big fan of other movies and especially documentaries about UFOs and Bigfoot and stuff like that, The Exorcist was the only scripted movie that really left a mark on me. Jaws was scary and I loved Amityville Horror, The Shining and The Changeling but that movie just really chilled me emotionally and I always wanted to make a movie about exorcism. I always wanted to add something new to that. And then my friend and writer Jamie Nash came up with the idea of somebody videotaping themselves going through a possession and I was like, wow, that’s it. But I didn’t want to do a found footage movie. I wanted my exorcism movie to be totally real, as real as I could make it, and I think that found footage, even on Blair Witch, the big thing that we were constantly fighting is ‘when are they going to run out of batteries and why are they videotaping themselves?’ It’s the thing that every found footage movie fights with, I mean, if somebody is chasing you why don’t you throw down the camera and run the fuck away? I just did a Bigfoot movie and I think it totally works with that movie – it’s a monster movie and it’s a little less serious, but with Lovely Molly I wanted to make it as real as possible as far as giving – not really an explanation - but an alternate reason for why things were happening. Not just ‘there’s a demon that’s coming after her’. She has this psychotic background, she’s a drug user, she was abused by her Dad, all these things that could have motivated what is happening to her. And make it scary, about this uncontrollable woman and what she’s going through, and nobody around her knows what to do.
There was this idea that I wanted to touch upon too, that it’s happening in the United States right now. For us there is no national healthcare program so basically there are forty million Americans without health insurance, in fact I think it’s up to sixty million now, and I went through that. In my twenties I had no health insurance. It’s the idea of even being able to turn to that basic ‘hey can you check her out and give her some guidance’.
SB: It struck me in the film that your characters are blue collar or working class. He’s a long distance lorry driver, she’s a cleaner, they’re scraping by. You get used to seeing characters in movies from more salubrious backgrounds.
ES: For me, most movies ,even The Exorcist… she’s an actress. When you really look at it, it’s foreign to 99.9 percent of the people in the world. So to me it’s like, without making it like they’re living in the backwoods and they’re living in a trailer, they’re not bums but they are working class and just stuck where they are, in an inherited house, the cheapest place to live, unfortunately Molly has unfinished business there. She really does want to get down to the bottom of whatever the hell is going on with her. She does win. It’s a hell of a price she plays but she does win. She completely gives in to whatever the malevolence is.
SB: Without giving away the ending there is the suggestion that whatever caused Molly to become possessed is going to continue.
ES: To me there is something beyond psychosis, and before or after the movie audiences can go onto various websites and we have an incredible amount of backstory: what is in that house? The history of that house, different theories of why this happened. We do a psychiatric study, we trace the demonic thing, is the house haunted?
SB: The ambiguity of the story is a deliberate thing but I was also struck by how upfront the abuse theme is. It really comes into the foreground as the film progresses.
ES: Unfortunately abuse happens a lot. I’ve known people who’ve been through it. Obviously there’re many different levels of it but you can either let it take you down a really bad road or you can try to make the best of it. I think making the best of it is a very courageous thing because it is all so painful. So that is what I wanted to examine – that there was real physical abuse by one of the most trusted people in a child’s life, but at the same time there are other things there. If there is a demon did it have something to do with the molestation, did it have something to do with the dad’s death or the mom’s death, and also why did she return and why does she stay. There are very few movies – I think The Shining is one example – where the protagonist becomes the antagonist. She becomes the criminal, the monster.
SB: Lovely Molly reminded me a bit of Polanski’s Repulsion in that respect.
ES: You know it was very strange that I had never seen Repulsion up until about – literally I was watching many movies with kind of the same tone or subject matter – and I saw Repulsion about two weeks before I shot the movie and I was amazed by how similar the story was. And it was if you’re going to borrow from somebody borrow from that. It didn’t totally connect it back but left you with a very uneasy feeling in the end.
SB: Another quality that Lovely Molly shares with Repulsion and The Exorcist is the evocative use of sound. It really helps to drive the story.
ES: The original idea for the movie was that there would be no music, it was going to be very stark, almost like a documentary. Then I hired a DP called John Rutland who is now my DP for life hopefully. He kind of challenged that, he was like, “I’d like to do this, I’d like to do that”. I didn’t want to make the film glossy or beautiful or anything but he showed me some films of where he wanted to take it and I was like “I think I like that”, so the movie actually visually came out a lot more beautiful than I thought it was going to look, some of the shots to me almost look like paintings, so once I had a movie that looked like that, still very dark and creepy and very wrong in many ways but looked that way, my whole view of what it was started developing and started changing and, as I was editing the movie, I started putting more and more temp music into it and messing around with the sound. I found these two young sound designers near my house who are just amazing, and they definitely brought their own ideas and a mixture of stuff. Then we had a test screening of the movie for some people that we know – writers, directors and editors – one of the notes that came back was that they loved the scene where she hears crying in the closet – to them it was like a creepy movie scene and it also gave backstory - is the little girl her? They thought, is there anything you can give us in the scene where the horse hooves are coming up the stairs other than it’s just the demon coming up the steps? Is there some other bit of information? I always thought it would be creepy if there was a song that she sang to her and the sound designer was like “hey, there’s this song called ‘Lovely Molly’”. The movie was actually called The Possession, until I heard about the movie called The Possession, which I think is coming out in August in the States. So suddenly we were scrambling around for a title, and ‘Lovely Molly’ is a public domain song and the lyrics made sense – kind of creepy in their own way, so I was like “why don’t we have the demon sing that to her” while it was going up the steps and in a bunch of other places, so we edited that in and it brought a whole new creepy level to that scene. This creepy melody. That was the biggest change we made, where we were literally adding story elements into the sound. But that’s what I love about making the movie, that even during the editing we came up with stuff, like in the scene where she gets attacked in the hallway by the invisible spirit. Originally it was a guy who came out, a completely naked guy with a bald head, a hairless white figure who came out and had sex with her. We had the screening and people were confused – is that the demon? Is it somebody from work? So one of my friends said “you should digitally paint him out”. So there were all these little things that we kept tweaking.
SB: Was there much improvisation from the actors?
ES: There was a little bit, not as much as I thought there would be. We did a lot of improv during the rehearsal and I added it into the script. There was a great ending line in the scene where they’re smoking pot and she goes “Remember when she was still here she wanted us to bring flowers to the house”. Gretchen came up with that line so I put it into the script. We started improvising in some of the scenes but always ended up going back to the page. But the improv brought about a certain rawness that they could layer onto the scripted word.
SB: Molly uses the camcorder as a way to confirm that what is happening is really real and not a hallucination. A lot of your films are about people mediating reality through videotape. Do you think things in our culture are going in that direction - “if I can’t film it with my iPhone and put it on Facebook, it isn’t real?”
ES: It really is. If our civilisation goes into decline, that collection that they own is going to be the most valuable thing to humanity because it is literally going to give us an hour by hour glimpse, a living documentation of the human race, a time capsule. Right now they do it, when somebody gets killed or somebody ends up being a killer they go “Hey, there’s his Facebook page” and the page becomes like this record. So it’s like to me, if somebody doesn’t put it on Facebook or video, it doesn’t exist. And there’s video everywhere!
Lovely Molly is released in UK cinemas on 29th June. Watch our exclusive clip HERE.