Films like The Haunting of Molly Hatchet, excuse me, Molly Hartley exist solely to make the longevity of the Saw series explicable. The idea, of course, is to provide the multiplexes with fodder for the PG-13 set on Halloween—mindless of the fact that a motivated pre-17-year-old is quite likely to find a way into the forbidden Saw V. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a PG-13 horror picture. After all, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) is well on the path to becoming a modern classic of the genre, while innumerable established pre-rating classics would qualify for PG status were they released today. But this only goes to show that there’s even less excuse for low-grade fertilizer like Molly Hartley.
What we have here is a TV-friendly cast shunted into a tepid tale of terror that would have been embarrassing had it appeared as an ABC Movie of the Week back in 1971. Writ large on the big screen, it’s something worse than an embarrassment. These are bottom-of-the-dust-bin Satanic shenanigans sure to try the patience of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of horror movies. The incredibly low-wattage “Honey, I sold the kid to the devil” scenario is more transparent than the invisible man in a roomful of Saran Wrap.
Just in case someone in the audience won’t grasp the basic premise of the film, screenwriters John Travis and Rebecca Sonnenshine (the latter credited as coauthor of something called American Zombie) open the story with an attempted blood-and-thunder prologue (that’s more like a weak-tea-and-rumbling start) involving a case similar to the one that makes up the main story. In this prologue, we get to witness a father save his soon-to-turn-18 daughter from “the darkness” by stabbing her in the throat with a broken rearview mirror—after having failed to off her in a car crash. (We should overlook the fact that the mirror wasn’t even there in the previous shot, since it had been removed to provide the cameraman a better view through the windshield. Let’s put this down to the magic of movies.) Oh my, having seen the fate that befell this girl, whatever can be the fate that awaits our Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett, College)?
Flash forward to where we meet soon-to-turn-18 Molly at her new prep school, where she’s trying to get her life back together after her mother (Marin Hinkle, TV’s Two and a Half Men) inhospitably mistook the girl for a sewing basket and stuck a pair of scissors in her. Not surprisingly, mom was consequently confined to one of those places where all the scissors are made of plastic. Unaccountably, Mr. Hartley (Jake Weber, TV’s Medium) has relocated his daughter and himself to the very town where murderous Ma Hartley is locked away. We call this convenient scripting.
At school, Molly becomes involved with the annoyingly religious Alexis (Shanna Collins, TV’s Swingtown), “bad” girl (you can tell by her taste in hosiery) Leah (Shannon Marie Woodward, TV’s The Riches), hunky Joseph Young (Chace Crawford, TV’s Gossip Girl) and Mr. Young’s snotty ex-girlfriend Suzie (AnnaLynne McCord, TV’s 90210). And, owing to her recent trauma, Molly has a standing appointment with the school shrink (TV actress Nina Siemaszko), who says things like, “Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you.” (Insert Groucho Marx’s assessment of Douglass Dumbrille in The Big Store here.) Molly, of course, suffers mightily. She has nosebleeds, panic attacks, fantasies of mom chasing her with cutlery—and probably has cramps and maybe even “the heartbreak of psoriasis,” for all we know.
What transpires is everybody’s guess, and all of it leads to what may take the blue ribbon for the least exciting climax ever to festoon a horror picture. It might be added that none of it makes a whole lot of sense either. How is it possible that these wonderfully organized diabolists have consistently failed in every previous attempt to unleash “the darkness” on the world? Just why does Pa Hartley give no credence to his daughter’s impending date with the devil despite having been in on the bargain? Why am I wasting my time wondering about the cosmic dumbness of this lousy movie? Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material, violence and terror, brief strong language and some teen drinking.