Review 64: The Exorcism of Molly Hartley (3/5)

The Exorcism of Molly Hartley

Directed by Steven R. Monroe

Starring Sarah Lind, Devon Sawa, Gina Holden, Peter MacNeill

Released on October 9, 2015

Running time: 1h 36m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: R for disturbing content throughout, violence, and a scene of strong sexuality)

Genre: Horror

Yes, you read that title right.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley, the forty-fifth movie I reviewed on this blog, and one of my most hated films to date, has a sequel.

As you may remember, I lambasted HoMH, deriding its laughably illogical story, cardboard cutout characters, and beyond insulting message that Christians are little more than starry-eyed kooks or homicidal maniacs, Satanists are kind and caring, and Satanism is a happy alternative lifestyle. It was a sordid little movie that deserves to die. In the style of Shakespeare, I bite my thumb at it.

And then, a few months after reviewing HoMH, I heard of its sequel coming out direct-to-DVD. Thinking, How much worse can it get?  I decided to watch it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The story begins as Father John Barrow (Sawa) is assisting another priest in an exorcism of a pregnant woman. The demon impersonates the woman’s voice, begging Barrow to release her and “do what’s right.” Barrow, like a moron, undoes the leg straps. The demon breaks free, having successfully tricked Barrow, and tackles the other priest out the window. They fall to the ground, where both die. Barrow is defrocked by papal decree. While he deserved to be defrocked, he definitely deserves to be redeemed. The chaplain who delivers the papal decree to Barrow will be an important character.

Transition to Molly (Lind) celebrating her twenty-fourth birthday with some friends. Surprisingly, she’s not with her Satanic cult. Wait – where’s Joseph? Where’s her former high school’s psychologist who’s the leader of that cult? These questions actually will be answered, but later. Molly goes home with two of her friends, a guy and a gal, and they, after a brief sequence, are implied to have participated in a threesome. Looks like the sequel is ditching its predecessor’s neutered PG-13 rating. Okay. Molly wakes up the next morning to find her friends missing. The police show up at Molly’s house for some reason, and find the mutilated corpses of the two friends in the bathtub. Of course the demon that’s been inside Molly for six years is hungry and wants some souls to eat. Molly, when asked who killed them, replies.

MOLLY: I didn’t kill them. (Her voice deepens and distorts, sounding demonic.) We did.

Molly, believed to have some sort of mental disorder, is committed to a sanitarium. Barrow is there, essentially filling in the post of surrogate priest. The instant Molly steps into the sanitarium, Barrow’s crucifix’s top wall holding breaks, and the cross hangs upside down. Subtle. But hey, if I ever saw that happen in real life, I would be thinking, Oh crap. Something fishy is going on.

Molly spends about six months in the sanitarium, being monitored by a psychiatrist, Dr. Hawthorne (Holden). We also learn that Molly’s father committed suicide soon after being admitted to a different sanitarium at the end of the previous movie. Dang it. And we learn that Joseph and the school counselor / cult leader committed ritualistic suicide, and that Molly escaped the cult, fleeing to Michigan to start a new life. She even graduated a semester early and magna cum laude from business school. I would say “good for her”, but this success in school only started after her induction into the cult. So no.

It turns out that Molly’s induction into the Satanic cult – gasp! Actually has repercussions! Molly, one night, has a large fly crawl into her nose, showing that something has possessed her, even though she’s clearly already been possessed. Over the next while, Molly terrorizes Dr. Hawthorne and much of the staff, drives the rest of the patients more insane than they already are, and even drives the devout Christian receptionist to suicide.

Apparently, this film doesn’t know that to properly tell a possession story, the possession crap has to start slowly. Methinks the filmmakers do not grasp the concept of a Slow Build.

It is implied that something evil and demonic is going to happen six years, six months, and six days after Molly’s induction into the cult. 666. Her induction happened when she was 6+6+6 (18) years old. 666. And on the sixth day, the demonic event will happen at 7:06, which can be interpreted as 6:66. That’s a lot of effort to surround Molly with 666.

Molly finally goes crazy, entering the final stages of possession before the event. Barrow is finally called in. He goes to and asks the chaplain from earlier for help, but the chaplain is unable to join him. But the chaplain still gives him the necessary gear. Bible. Holy water. Crucifixes. The Roman Ritual of Exorcism. And some sort of box adorned with religious symbols designed for capturing evil spirits.

Barrow returns to the sanitarium, where Molly has been placed in a padded room and strapped to a stretcher. And her facial makeup is surprisingly creepy. And the voice, while generic, is no less disturbing. While her devilish dialogue is less penetrating than, say, Baal in The Rite, Pazuzu from The Exorcist, the Deadites from Evil Dead, the Jungler in Deliver Us from Evil, the demons that dwelt within Cain, Nero, and Judas, as well as the demons Legion, Belial, and Lucifer himself from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Bathsheba from The Conjuring, and so many more, I still get that undeniable vibe of Holy crap. I’m hearing the voice of evil personified. Of course the Devil knows his Bible, and of course he dismisses it by quoting Karl Marx:

MOLLY (POSSESSED): The opiate of the masses!

And I was surprised that EoMH did not follow the typical cliché of the exorcism working. In fact, even two surprisingly tense attempts later, Barrow has still not sent the Devil back to Hell. Understandable – to cast out the Devil himself is going to be an amazingly daunting task.

By the way, there’s a little nod to HoMH when the Devil recites a passage from Paradise Lost. Molly and her high school class studied it. I can remember the scene well – the teacher passed out Bibles in order for the class to better understand PL’s symbolism. The entire dang class was annoyed by this, and I was annoyed by the class. The class’s Bible-thumper, Alexis, stated that she had her own Bible and didn’t need one of the teacher’s copies, resulting in a small argument.

Anyway, Barrow goes into Molly’s room for the third time, and, after much effort, and after Molly is exposed to what looks like the pure light of God, the Devil is exorcised, and his spirit, which manifests itself as a swarm of bad CGI flies (Beelzebub) (Lord of the Flies), is sent into that spirit-trapping box from earlier. Molly and Barrow officially meet, and say their goodbyes.

I knew that the movie wasn’t really over by that point, as I still had twenty-five minutes to go.

When I saw the rest of the patients at the sanitarium staring ominously at Molly, I hearkened back to the first exorcism attempt, in which the possessed Molly quotes Mark 5:9: “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Barrow countered by saying that Jesus cast Legion out of the man and into a herd of swine, and the swine, in a frenzy, ran into the sea and drowned. Possessed Molly says that she enjoys doing that. In a blast of understanding, I realized, Oh. The patients are the swine.

Barrow goes to the house of the chaplain from earlier and gives him the spirit-holding container. He notices a book on a desk with a pentagram on it. Barrow asks the chaplain about it, and the chaplain explains that that style of pentagram is the sigil of Baphomet, and he gives Barrow some exposition involving LaVeyan Satanism.

In Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, there are four books, of Lucifer, Satan, Belial, and Leviathan. Part of the Book of Leviathan, like the Biblical Book of Revelation, deals with the Biblical End Times. Part of that section of the Book of Leviathan features a ritual that can bring the Devil to the earth through a ritualistic version of [allegedly] the greatest crime of all – matricide.

I was stunned at this next plot development.

Molly, when she was inducted into the Satanic cult, was essentially impregnated with the Devil. While Heavenly Mother was the Devil’s actual mother, Molly, in this case, has become the Devil’s surrogate mother. Because of this, tonight, with the ritual murder of Molly, the Devil can be born into the world. That’s actually kind of disturbing.

Upon realizing what is to happen tonight, Barrow goes to retrieve the spirit-holding container. When Barrow notices that it is gone, plot twist, the chaplain knocks him out.

Meanwhile, at the sanitarium, the security guards abduct Molly and drag her down to the basement.

Barrow wakes up in the sanitarium, and a security guard leads him away at gunpoint.

Dr. Hawthorne, who actually has much more of a character in this movie than I’m letting on, arrives at the sanitarium, fends off and kills a security guard with a pair of sharp scissors, then rescues Barrow. She and Barrow run downstairs.

By the way, all three of them have discovered that the swine truly have thrown themselves into the sea, as every single mental patient there has rationed cyanide among themselves. Yikes. That’s an unpleasant way to die. Kind of like drowning, but without the water. Cyanide makes your muscles relax, and with a relaxed diaphragm, you can’t breathe. You suffocate. It can take several minutes for you to die.

The chaplain from earlier is dressed in full satanic garb, with his followers standing around the room. The ritual begins, but Barrow and Dr. Hawthorne burst in. Dr. Hawthorne impales the chaplain as Barrow frees Molly, who finishes the chaplain off with the ritual knife.

The rest of the Satanists chase Barrow, Dr. Hawthorne, and Molly outside, but the armed Satanists are gunned down by the police, who have arrived out of nowhere, while the unarmed Satanists are taken into custody.

That was anticlimactic. I was actually kind of hoping that Anton LaVey himself would be there, but he’s dead, so I then hoped that his successor, Peter H. Gilmore, would show up, so he could be among those Satanists either killed or arrested. I’m serious when I say that the man’s face, eyes, smile, and overall aura scream “evil”. I’m serious that whenever I see a picture of the man, I feel physically uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable just to write or talk about him and his “church,” so I’m just going to move on.

By the way, the chaplain had documents in his house that listed the names of everyone in Molly’s former cult.

Molly is taken away in an ambulance. It’s really nice, and is a load off my shoulders to see her redeemed. She lays back on the stretcher, and closes her eyes, but the music builds as she opens them. What was supposed to be happening?

And we end with an epilogue, showing one of the flies that made up the Devil’s spirit flying into a school bus, and crawling into the ear of a young girl.

Of course the Devil always has some sort of insurance policy.

Well, I guess that the people who preach and live God’s will every day will just have to be ever-vigilant.

When I finished the movie, I acknowledged its flaws. Obviously, the story was all over the place, but was at least, to some degree, consistent. The characters needed more development, but they were, to some degree, still memorable. The budget is significantly lower than that of its predecessor, and it shows, but, to some degree, it felt like it was utilized better. The cinematography is a little awkward at times, but it is, to some degree, pretty good for it being direct-to-DVD.

But it was glorious to see Satanism, which was praised in Haunting, was disparaged in Exorcism. It received its punishment that had been a long time in coming.

Despite its inevitable and numerous flaws, The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is a definite improvement over its predecessor.

As if that was actually a hard thing to do.

Final verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.

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