Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Ain't 'Fraid of No Ghost

The films Lovely Molly (2012) and The Haunting of Julia aka Full Circle (1977) have little in common except for the plot device of a woman being hounded by some kind of demonic ghost figure which could either be real or simply her coping mechanism for a more deeply routed mental illness. The films both tackle this plight in different ways but the notion of reality and unreality is deeply present in both. While both films end on the note that it was a supernatural entity tormenting them it is still ambiguous enough for it to be argued as a mental illness. It is a great device meant to provoke a (hopefully) thoughtful discussion after the film ends about what has caused the terrors we have just witnessed; the women or something worse?

In The Haunting of Julia (aka Full Circle) Mia Farrow plays Julia Lofting who after the traumatic and accidental death of her daughter leaves her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea channeling the same creepy stalkerness that he had in Black Christmas) and moves into a new home. But the new home is evil, EVIL I tells you. After a seance, the psychic goes cray-cray and mumbles about a child being present. Julia, deperate to believe she hasn't lost her child forever tries to interact with the ghost while an unseen force starts offing all those who enter the house by themselves.

Lovely Molly follows the titular Molly (Gretchen Lodge who looks like the saddest version of Chloe Sevigny) a newlywed who moves into her family's old home. With both parents dead the only family she has is her sister, Molly is the quintessential forgotten person. Both her sister and her husband drop clues as heavy as Acme weights about Molly's substance abuse past which also adds to Molly's unreliable narrator quality and grounds the film in a cycle of physical and substance abuse. Since they're cash strapped, Molly's husband works as a truck driver and is gone for long stretches as time which of course gives Molly enough time to fall prey to her addictions and/or some kind of demon entity.

Looking at both films, it's the women who are traumatized after being failed by a nuclear family structure. Julia, though not for lack of trying, failed as a mother. Molly, has been failed by her family and is failing as a wife. Both Molly and Julia are in desperately fragile states. Julia cries most of the time and Molly if she's not crying is walking around naked. They are babes in the woods cast out for the structure they believed in and achieved only to be let down by them.

When Eli Roth was promoting The Last Exorcism (2010) he spoke of the nature of harming women in horror films, "with a possessed girl, you instantly feel protective of her. Teenage boys can be violent and dangerous already, so when they're possessed, you don't see much of a difference." We are unable to separate our notions of women from daughters and wives. While I enjoyed both of these films, (I'd say The Haunting of Julia is a must see, Lovely Molly is just okay) we are unable to truly talk about women if they are not within a family context.

I'm more forgiving of The Haunting of Julia. It was made in the 1970s and it is about a woman struggling to break free. Lovely Molly is about a young woman with no real agency, she is a victim and suffers for the failings of those around her. While Lodge gives a great performance, it's exhausting watching someone who's main character trait is that they're sad. I wish they'd given Molly some kind of interior life that was not defined by her deceased father or her not very present husband.

While I think both films illustrate the lack of options presented to women, I wish Lovely Molly had allowed Molly to fight back. Ninety or so minutes of a woman cowering and being assaulted frankly does little for me. The Haunting of Julia is more ambiguous and more interesting. It does not come down on any one side of victimhood but allows the viewer to take away from it what they wish. While The Haunting of Julia is a more complete film, Lovely Molly is riddled with cliches. I believed in Julia and hoped for her survival, Molly is like waiting for water to boil; you know it will happen but it takes so damn long to get there.

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