OCTOBER 26, 2015
The original Molly Hartley isn't exactly a movie people love and have been demanding a sequel to; it was a low budget programmer aimed at teens, shot cheap, directed by a producer (never a good sign), and while it turned a minor profit, no one seems to ever remember it existing. In fact it was "famous" in these parts for being one of the only theatrically released horror movies I missed while still living up to the "A Day" part of Horror Movie a Day, which is perfectly fitting for such an anonymous movie. So when Fox announced The Exorcism Of Molly Hartley, I assumed it would be more or less a remake of the original - why would they continue a storyline no one seems to remember?
Well, oddly enough, that's exactly what they did. Molly is played by a different actress (Sarah Lind from Wolfcop), but it dives deep into what that film established, and more significantly, actually makes up for that film's weirdo (admirably so) ending. In fact, the only thing I really remember about the original, seven years later, is that Molly turned herself over to Satan at the end, and had zero drawbacks from it - she got more popular, her grades improved, etc. But there was no "Just one thing..." twist or whatever - the ending couldn't be construed as anything but a fully happy one. She didn't even get possessed (read: all black) eyes! In retrospect I think it might have just been a nod to The Legacy (also admirable), but it was still a weird way to end a movie aimed at impressionable teens. Satan is good!
Screenwriter Matt Venne must have agreed, as the movie wastes no time in establishing that there IS, in fact, a downside to her life-changing deal. When we first meet back up with Molly she has just made partner at her firm, the youngest person to do so in fact, and is out celebrating that and her birthday. By now she's used to getting everything she wants and life just kind of working out great for her, and thus she does what anyone in that position would do - encourages her male pal and his girlfriend to get drunk and then go back to her place for a threeway. Alas, she starts seeing things and blacks out, and when she wakes up her new pals are very much dead. The cops take her to an institution, and the steady march toward living up to the film's title begins!
But an exorcism needs an exorcist, and that's where Devon Sawa comes in (and yes, we're at the point where Devon Sawa is now old enough to play weary priests). Curiously, the movie doesn't show us Molly until the 15 minute mark - we spend that first chunk of the film with Sawa as he attempts an unrelated exorcism that goes badly, killing the victim. He is defrocked and sent to the same institution Molly will find herself in later, which allows the movie to pack in a number of allusions to a number of religious-themed supernatural classics: The Exorcist AND Exorcist III, plus a bit of Emily Rose (a shrink played by longtime HMAD crush Gina Holden is tasked with deciding if Molly is possessed or crazy), an out of nowhere homage to The Omen, and a touch of Rosemary's Baby for good measure. You might read that and think the movie is nothing more than a series of ripoffs from better movies, but honestly I found it to be a fairly enjoyable stew, combining familiar elements in a way that may not surprise you all that often, but isn't necessarily bad.
The dual protagonist aspect works well; Sawa's priest and Molly have about equal screentime, and Venne's script finally has them meet at the exact right time (about halfway), when we've gotten invested in both of their stories and can watch their scenes with far more interest than the average Exorcist wannabe allows for. By establishing that exorcisms can be deadly (something we rarely see, in fact), we're worried that Molly could be next to die under his watch, but we're also rooting for him to redeem himself. It's the rare case where the recasting of a character actually works in the movie's favor - had Haley Bennett returned, it might be somewhat annoying that the movie devotes so much time to a different character, but as we're kind of meeting her for the first time here (and the movie opens on Sawa first), their equal importance is always balanced. Holden doesn't get to do a whole lot (dammit), but she serves a good function in the 2nd half, breaking up the exorcism attempts, and also doing some of the backstory heavy lifting.
And it's in these scenes that the movie kind of stumbles; there's a REALLY terrible bit where Molly quotes Paradise Lost and both Sawa and Holden discuss how she could have known that sort of thing, with Holden saying she'd look into her school records to see if she ever read it there. I mean, when a character starts speaking Latin out of nowhere, sure, that might be possession. Quoting a damn book that you can find at any bookstore, not so much. And while I guess it's unavoidable to draw comparisons to Linda Blair's profane outbursts, some of these just sound completely silly, mocking the "The crow cocks three times" story, among others. Some of the other Exorcist lifts work well though; the obligatory pea soup callback is wonderfully icky, with poor Holden getting completely drenched in the crap instead of just taking a little dribble on her face. But why is it pea soup? Why do they have to go with green whenever someone has to projectile vomit in these things? I know some folks think so highly of Exorcist that they automatically dismiss every other exorcism movie as a ripoff - I'm not among them, but even I wish they were a little less overt.
Otherwise, I have to admit, for a movie that shouldn't exist, it's pretty enjoyable. The actors are good, the music is REALLY good (quick: name all the good scores in DTV movies. Yeah.), and the mix of Rosemary's Baby-esque "she's the chosen one" stuff and good ol' fashioned exorcism motifs works well more often than not. Oddly, this is sort of Venne's thing: scripting a DTV sequel to a lousy theatrical release and somehow making the better of the two films (he also did Mirrors 2 and Fright Night 2, which was actually yet another remake but still miles better than the stupid Colin Farrell one it was tied to). He's not infallible (Bag of Bones, though he had a lesser King book to work from and the most indifferent director on the planet shooting his pages), but that's a pretty decent track record, far as I'm concerned, and he's definitely the guy to hire if you're planning on making a sequel to, I dunno, Whiteout or something.
The Blu-ray comes with a few bonus features; you can skip the director diaries and "surveillance" footage (just long takes of shit we see on monitors at the hospital), but the look at exorcisms in the real world is fairly interesting if you're interested in the subject. For starters they spend more time talking to real priests and psychologists than the actors or director (who also gave us the I Spit On Your Grave remake and its first sequel; oddly enough the 3rd film, which he skipped, was released on the same day at this), so it actually has a little more to say than the usual fluff piece, where it'd usually be window dressing for movie promotion. Here it almost seems like they added the actors in later just to tie it together. Like the film itself, better than you'd probably expect out of something so seemingly unnecessary. Speaking of unnecessary, a digital copy is included in case you want to watch a pixelated version on your iPad or whatever.
I won't keep this disc; it's a perfectly OK movie that I'll never feel the need to watch again and nothing more. But the fact that it actually paid off/made up for the wonkiest thing about the original really tickled me, and (spoiler?) I liked how they set up a 3rd film, showing that Molly might still be possessed or whatever, AND also showing another girl seemingly being picked to be next. Hell maybe they can branch off and do both - do a series of "The Exorcism of ______" films and more ______'s of Molly Hartley. The Death of Molly Hartley, The Resurrection of Molly Hartley, The Inquisition of Molly Hartley... the possibilities are endless! And, apparently, potentially enjoyable!
What say you?