Screening as part of the “Midnight Madness” portion of the fest, the film begins when “newlywed Molly Reynolds (Gretchen Lodge) returns to her long-abandoned family home, frightful reminders of a nightmarish childhood begin seeping into her new life. She soon begins an inexorable descent into evil that blurs the lines between psychosis and possession.”
Inside you’ll find out exclusive chat with Sanchez and Lodge, along with co-stars Johnny Lewis and Alexandra Holden about the chilling demonic tale.
Eduardo Sanchez presented his latest movie, ‘Lovely Molly’, to the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness audience on Wednesday night. He introduced the film as taking the first person genre to the next level. He did not say found footage. When I spoke with him the next morning, he explained the distinction.
“I guess they’ve called it found footage because of ‘Blair’ but to me it’s not always found footage,” Sanchez said. “That’s the reason for the footage. Sometimes it’s just first person. That’s the way Dan and I always talked about it, it being first person footage. To me the found footage thing doesn’t make sense sometimes, doesn’t make sense in the telling of the story so I just call it first person.”
‘Lovely Molly’ stars film newcomer Gretchen Lodge as the title character. Molly moves into her father’s old house with her new husband (Johnny Lewis). While Tim is away driving a truck, Molly relapses into her drug addiction and experiences a mental breakdown that could be caused by supernatural forces.
“As far as the videoing of myself, those were incredible in the fact that we’d have a long day of shooting, it would be at the very end when you’re just completely stripped and you feel like you have nothing more to give,” Lodge said. “I would just go into a room by myself and I was allowed the freedom to do a few takes on my own. Then Ed and I would talk and see what changes we wanted to make and then go back in. It was completely isolated which made it so perfect for the scenes where she does shoot herself.”
‘Molly’ uses a video camera on herself and to record the voices plaguing her. The film even answers the old criticism of ‘Blair Witch.’ She does put the camera down when things get intense.
“It’s my main struggle with first person movies,” Sanchez admitted. “After a while you wouldn’t be shooting anymore but then you wouldn’t have a movie so you kind of have to suspend your disbelief. It just gets outrageous sometimes. To me, you’re burdening the movie down with just the reason why it’s being shot. Why don’t you just shoot the damn movie? Normal movies don’t start and say, `All right, this is why we did this movie.’ No, it just starts and you know. In the first person genre there’s this constant burden about why is the camera shooting, where did that camera come from and where did you get the footage? I haven’t seen ‘Apollo 18’ but one of the criticisms is how the hell did they find this footage? Is it addressed? Was it on the moon or did they come back? To me it’s an unnecessary burden on the filmmaking style just to explain a style.”
The majority of ‘Lovely Molly’ is a traditional narrative film. First person segments are intercut when Molly is filming with her camera. “It was a lot more organic than I thought it would be,” Sanchez said. “All we did was we basically had her shooting while we were shooting her. Then there was a couple scenes that we shot just with her and the camera. Mostly, it happens in the editing. You just seamlessly put it in and you just figure out what works and what doesn’t work and work that way. It’s mostly editing.”
The sound design is much more ambitious than ‘Blair Witch’ or other found footage movies. “We had this local company in Baltimore called Studio Unknown do the sound,” Sanchez said. “Basically they’re just the guys that are really talented dudes that just took the movie over and really worked their asses off. They really tweaked it. We built a lot of the stuff in the post. The whole singing, the ‘Lovely Molly’ singing, that was not in the script. That was something we came up with in the sound design phase.”
The film renders Molly completely exposed and vulnerable, and increasingly intense in those moments. Nude scenes become deadly and Sanchez shoots Lodge artistically.
“During the auditions, we made it really clear that this is a really physically challenging role, very hardcore and the script didn’t pull any punches,” Sanchez said. “There was nudity involved, that was a big thing. Once we cast Gretchen, there were no warning signs to me that she wasn’t going to go into it 110%. Once we got to the set and started rehearsing, I knew it was going to be fine. She had this look in her eye when she disconnected which is kind of the same quality I saw in Heather when Dan and I cast her in Blair Witch. She had this ability to transfer me at least to a different place through the rawness of her performance.”
Lodge felt the revealing moments were vital to her portrayal of Molly. “I thought they were necessary to the plot for sure,” Lodge said. “Ed and I had so many conversations about how they were so involved and so necessary. If they hadn’t have been, they wouldn’t be in there. He was so dedicated to keeping all the content of the story as true as possible to the plotline. So I thought it was completely necessary.”
The scenes appear quite beautiful, even when Molly is in a rough condition and in a dark place. The camera highlights her and portrays her tragically. “Actually my original idea for the movie was for it to be a lot more raw and not as beautiful, but the D.P. John Rutland had different ideas,” Sanchez said. “I’m real happy that he took the film in the direction that he took it. I didn’t storyboard anything on the film this time. I wanted to keep it loose and keep the collaboration open between everybody, including the blocking with the actors and camera angles and lighting.”
The beauty comes out of the reality of Molly’s condition, says Lodge. You don’t have to exploit her or glamorize her. “They were beautiful I think because of their honesty,” Lodge said. “We both talked about how we didn’t want to glamorize it. We didn’t want this girl to be sexy. She ends up being that way because of the shots and because of stuff that happens but it certainly wasn’t the main point to make it erotic or anything.”
Casting Molly, Lodge was Sanchez’s first choice. Other name actors were suggested, including ‘Paranormal Activity’s Katie Featherston, but Sanchez had his own vision. “Actually, we were talking to our agents,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know if we have the same agents or whatever but they were trying to get Katie to be Molly. Not that I have anything against Katie but I wanted to go with somebody completely unknown. The vibe wasn’t right.”
Lodge was a successful theater actor in London who’d moved to New York six months before auditioning for ‘Lovely Molly’. She says she was ready for a change, and this was an dramatic one.
“I’ve played Ophelia in Hamlet before which is the closest I can possibly thing,” Lodge said. “That’s the closest I think I’ve ever come to that but that’s always appealed to me because those emotions lie within everybody I think. It’s just whether the situation ever arises to bring them to the surface.”
Sanchez became so fixated on Lodge that no other actor could supercede her. However, one hopeful for the role of Molly ended up landing the part of her sister, Hannah. “In my mind I’d already cast Gretchen,” Sanchez said. “I was trying to see if somebody would unseat her from the top position. She came first and Alexandra [Holden] auditioned for the Molly role originally. She turned in a really incredible audition tape. She did an unbelievable thing but Gretchen had already infected me. Luckily for me, Alexandra was cool enough to say, `Hey, what about Hannah?’”
Holden is best known for teen comedies and TV shows. She recognized the opportunity ‘Lovely Molly’ presented and was happy Lodge got the part. “Roles like that don’t come along that often, so I was just thrilled to be able to push myself like that,” Holden said. “I worked really hard at making this tape. I did it so many times, over and over again. It didn’t click for me. I couldn’t get there. I didn’t feel right. I kind of knew I wasn’t Molly but I loved the script so much and I found the Hannah character really, really interesting. So I was like, `I have to be in this movie.’ The Hannah role was a better fit for me and I’m glad it worked out that way.”
As a husband dealing with extraordinary circumstances, Lewis had to go to a dark place too. “It was intense filming it. It was really a place that you don’t ever go to consciously by choice,” Lewis said. “But I think everyone goes to, just heartache or betrayal, violent emotions with someone you love. Everyone goes there eventually. It’s something that was difficult but I think most people could probably relate to on some level.”
With a breakthrough role like Molly, expect to hear a lot more from Lodge in the future. “I guess the main thing with anyone who does a script like this or a character like this, you constantly hope you get something that’s as rich again,” Lodge said. “That’s for everybody. You constantly want something that’s so character driven. That’s rich material. I think that’s the aim and the goal for everybody.”