Thursday, November 15, 2012

Holy Shit, American Horror Story

So I'm beginning to think I was wrong about the new season of American Horror Story - it's not as good as the first season, it's better. If nothing else, the two-part episode "I Am Anne Frank" stands as one of the bravest, scariest things I've seen as original television programming. In a story about Nazi war atrocities and Lizzie Borden-style patricide, the most uncomfortable thing in part 1 was Lana's aversion/conversion therapy session - stimuli presented calmly and clinically, with a kind, soft voice as Lana submits to awful, dehumanizing treatment - and this shit totally used to happen. They didn't need to make this up. And the critique in part 2 continues with Anne's husband and his expectations for married life, shown in the stagy colors and lightings of period film stock. It ends with people getting what they wanted - Lana getting out, and Anne returned to her happy family, but at awful, awful costs. Yeah, pretty sure the show's creator was thinking "oh, so we got the green light based on last season? Well, you motherfuckers ain't yet seen a thing."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lovely Molly: Haunted



1. inhabited or frequented by ghosts
2. preoccupied, as with an emotion, memory, or idea; obsessed
3. disturbed; distressed; worried

Generally, haunted house movies feature one of two types of protagonist: People who have stumbled onto the haunted house, unaware of its history, or people who are returning to the house after time away, aware of and perhaps complicit in its history. Either way, the house is an externalizing force - a place to be visited and either escaped or confronted. This is all well and good, and it makes for some scary-ass movies when done well, but the term "haunted" can encompass so much that it seems a shame to focus more on the "house" part than the "haunted" part.

(Yeah, I know they don't all take place in houses, but whether it's a decaying mansion, a new suburban tract home, a farm, a ship, a prison, a hospital, or an entire city, it's still a location, and that's the important bit).

Part of why I really liked Lovely Molly was that it seemed to get the idea of "haunted" - it's not just the house, it's also what the protagonist carries around with her, and the corrosive effect both of those have on her well-being. That, and it's a well-made, supremely uneasy crawl through madness and personal disintegration.

Molly and Tim have just gotten married, and they're an adorable couple, all smiles and very visibly in love. We get the sense that Molly's had it rough, both her parents are dead and she's clean and sober after an extended period of drug abuse. This is a fresh start for her. However, Tim's a truck driver and Molly works on the cleaning staff for a local hotel. They aren't rich, and their families aren't rich, so they move back into Molly's childhood home, a big old stone house out in the country. Oh, sure, it's a little weird to say the least, and there are parts of the house you can tell Molly isn't thrilled about walking into. Something bad happened to Molly here.

But now she lives here with her husband, Tim, and so she's safe. When the newly-installed alarm goes off, it's Tim who grabs the baseball bat and makes sure Molly doesn't get hurt. Turns out it's nothing - they probably just left the door unlocked and the wind blew it open. Of course, Tim's job takes him away from home for days at a time, so there's Molly, all alone in the house. All alone in the dark, in the house where so much happened to her and her sister. The house where her father met an untimely end. Where she and her sister used to hide in the closet, where they felt safe. And then the sounds begin. The rattling doors, the buzzing of flies, the hooves on the floor. The voices calling her name.

It's not really clear how much of what's happening to Molly is in her head and how much isn't, but it doesn't really matter. The house is haunted, she is haunted. If anything, the house is haunting her. The smallest things seem to hold significance - the room she doesn't want to stay in, the one with all of the pictures of her father tending horses, his malevolent gaze almost burning holes through the photo paper, the shed with a crawlspace containing some very, very old stonework, the way she keeps ending up in her childhood bedroom. Honestly, one of the most unsettling moments in this movie for me was the uncovering of a perfectly normal chair. The dread is almost suffocating the longer the movie goes on. There's barely any music, and it's less a continuous story line and more like vignettes - scenes from a marriage, almost - interspersed with video camera footage taken by someone wandering around in the woods at night, initially odd but innocuous, eventually awful in its implications.

The end result is a still, measured portrait of personal disintegration with something terrible (and very possibly supernatural) eating away at the edges and lurking in the background. It's horror that, like American Horror Story, straddles the line between the horrors of this world and the horrors of the next masterfully. It doesn't pander, it doesn't spoon-feed the story to you, and it doesn't hold your hand. It leaves you alone in the woods, in the basement, in an empty house in the middle of the night, and dares you to look out into the darkness.