November 6, 2008

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The Haunting of Molly Hartley (PG-13)
An almost 18-year-old girl is tormented by — ooo, spooky — something! in the plodding The Haunting of Molly Hartley, a dreary teen horror flick.

That almost-18-year-old thing is very important, apparently, because in the movie’s opening scenes (set in 1993) a father kills his daughter because she’s just about to turn 18 and “the darkness is coming for you!” he rants. Enjoy this bit of action because the movie then brings us up to present day and inches through the story of Molly (Haley Bennett), who is about to start the first day at a new prep school. She is also almost 18 and she is all furrowed of brow and pouty of lip because, at some point in the not-too-distant past, her mother tried to stab her to death with a pair of scissors because she “knows what you are.” Molly and her dad (Jake Weber) worries that what she is is crazy — Molly’s mom was diagnosed with some compound-word problem that basically equals “nutters” and Molly fears she’s headed in the same direction. And then we crawl through a story where Molly meets religious girl Alexis (Shanna Collins), rebel girl Leah (Shannon Marie Woodward), bitchy girl Suzie (AnnaLynne McCord) and potential boyfriend Joe (Chace Crawford — the guy with the least interesting character on Gossip Girl). Molly feels a presence in rooms that are empty, hears voices when she’s alone and (as we are cued by the “dun dun DUN” music) something is always just about to jump out at her. What with being constantly on edge, having to fit in to a new school and possibly going crazy, it really kinda sucks being Molly.

It kinda sucks to be watching Molly as well. When I bought the ticket for this movie, the girl at the box office wondered aloud “what is the point of a PG-13 horror movie.” I could say that for a movie to achieve suspense, terror and real chills you don’t need the gore and violence Don’t always need it, maybe. But in the case of such limp fare (“looking terrified,” which is about all Bennett is given to do, is just not enough to carry a performance) as this, a bit of gore might help distract from the way nothing happens for most of the movie (the real action seems to start and end in about the last 10 minutes). I don’t know if squirts of blood, hacked-off limbs or just better story construction would do the trick here but I wished the movie would have tried any of those things. D

Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material, violence and terror, brief strong language and some teen drinking. Directed by Mickey Liddell and written by John Travis and Rebecca Sonnenshine, The Haunting of Molly Hartley is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Freestyle Releasing.