For a textbook case on how not to market a movie, look no further than The Haunting of Molly Hartley. Sure, Quarantine slapped one of its final frames onto the poster, but at least it left viewers with the assurance that some surprises would still be contained within. Not so with this sorry sack of celluloid, a flick that laid out its entire agenda, twists and all, for anyone who caught the trailers. Still, in some warped way, it's a prime example of truth in advertising — The Haunting of Molly Hartley is every bit as shallow and mediocre as it looked in the previews.
Life has not been kind to high school student Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett). Despite her father's (Jake Weber) attempts to start over after Molly was nearly killed by her mother, she is still going through a pretty rough patch. She's constantly afflicted by intense hallucinations and headaches, which seem to increase and worsen as her eighteenth birthday approaches. Nevertheless, Molly tries to lead a normal life at her new school, palling up with a sarcastic classmate (Shannon Marie Woodward) and even carousing with the campus hunk (Chace Crawford). But Molly's terrifying visions persist, forcing her to discover the truth behind a terrible event from the past before demonic forces possess her, body and soul.
The Haunting of Molly Hartley is part of an alarming trend of recent horror films aiming a little too much for the MTV set. Director Mickey Liddell isn't so much concerned with making a lasting impression in the genre than he is with serving up a supernatural Laguna Beach. Despite Molly's crippling visions, she still gets involved with standard-issue high school melodrama, including an obligatory catfight with the school's self-appointed queen of mean (AnnaLynne McCord). The dearth of horror got so bad there were times where I thought the projectionist accidentally started showing an episode of 90210. I'd say it wasn't for lack of trying, but the writers' attempts to make some sort of statement about religion and the battle of good versus evil end up falling on very skeptical ears. Such moments are muddled at best, and though the idea to craft something intelligent is nice, the follow-through is anything but.
Some horror flicks are inherently bad from the start, but The Haunting of Molly Hartley actually could've been a decent picture. The story is one part Rosemary's Baby and one part The Omen, but its duties to the teeny-bopper demographic keep getting in the way. Liddell plays things safe when he should be daring, putting most of his efforts into freaking viewers out visually rather than thematically. Loud noises and jump scares alone do not make a good movie, and hardly anywhere is that more true than with The Haunting of Molly Hartley. Aside from the lame and derivative frights, the cast doesn't do much to draw viewers into the fray. Bennett is cuter than cute but has a habit of wearing the same dazed expression for most of the film. Her emotions also turn on a dime, leading to awkward moments when she's howling in fear one second and lashing out at people the next. With the exception of Shanna Collins as a Bible-thumping classmate, the supporting cast is a generic bunch whose faces and roles all bleed into one another.
Slap on an ending that's as anticlimactic as the day is long, and you've got yourself a pretty miserable affair. For what it's worth, worse ghost stories have been unleashed on viewers and this flick's badness is one that won't last much further beyond your journey back to the parking lot. But in the end, The Haunting of Molly Hartley is liable to frighten more slumber parties than it will hardened horror buffs.