Last month, genre fans, present company enthusiastically included, flipped their lids over The Cabin in the Woods, the meta and witty horror-comedy from the formidable duo of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. As much as we love Cabin, there’s one unavoidable fact about the film that needs to be addressed: It’s not at all scary, since it’s ostensibly programmed to be a funny movie. Far scarier was last year’s big horror standout Insidious, though even that supernatural freakshow has its share of comedic moments. Same goes for this year's brilliant indie shocker Kill List, a.k.a. one of the best horror flicks in years, and one regarded highly for its sadistic qualities. Isn’t it about time someone made straightforward, no-laughs-included chiller?

It most certainly is, and, this weekend, we’ve been given just that. Directed and co-written by Eduardo Sánchez, Lovely Molly (out in limited theatrical release today) is one of the more disturbing movies to come long in quite some time. Part psychologically dark character study and part occult-themed horror exercise, the film captures the rapidly fracturing mind of Molly (impressive newcomer Gretchen Lodge), a newlywed who moves into her old childhood cottage home with her spouse (Sons of Anarchy alum Johnny Lewis), along with her own past demons, including a history of drug abuse and physical abuse from her late father. And the house just so happens to have a possible legacy of demonic possession.

Experimental in nature, Lovely Molly mixes a traditional cinematic aesthetic with the first-person POV popularized in found-footage flicks; before you groan over yet another one of those movies, however, do note that Sánchez is one of the technique’s forefathers. Back in 1999, he and pal Daniel Myrick independently made a little picture called The Blair Witch Project, promptly revolutionizing the horror genre and cementing their names into the record books. Yet, since the juggernaut success of Blair Witch, neither filmmaker has been able to grab the public’s attention with another effort. Will Lovely Molly finally give Sanchez his second triumph? Only time will tell, though one thing’s for sure: It’s the best and scariest movie he’s made yet.

Complex recently chatted in-depth with Sánchez for about Lovely Molly’s connections to The Exorcist, why it’s so hard for horror directors to get some respect, how his Christian upbringing led to occult interests, and striking gold with his leading lady Gretchen Lodge.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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As a horror movie fan who prefers his movies as dark as possible, and preferably laugh-free, the overall bleakness of Lovely Molly is definitely appreciated. What made you want to go for such an overwhelmingly disturbing tone for this project?
I’ve been wanting to make a film like The Exorcist ever since first saw The Exorcist when I was little. I always thought it was going to be more of a typical exorcism movie, with the priest and the holy water and all that stuff. But it really surprised me when I started writing the script. My writing partner Jamie [Nash] came up with the idea of, What if somebody was possessed, or felt they were possessed, and they started video-taping themselves? I thought that was a really great premise.

Honestly, I thought I was going to go down that more typical direction, where they go to a priest and he tries to help them, and this and that. But it just ended up going into a different direction, to becoming more of a drama, and more of a psychological thriller. It’s a totally serious film; I didn’t pull any punches. That’s why when I went to cast the film, it was definitely challenging, but I knew that whatever actress I ultimately found would have to really have a huge set of balls and be an incredibly courageous woman, and fortunately I lucked out and found Gretchen when I did.

At both screenings I’ve attended, once the movie ends, I looked around the room and noticed that nobody stood up right away—it was more of a shell-shocked reaction. Almost as if they’d just been beaten up for 90 minutes.
Yeah, that’s great. [Laughs.] I really like all kinds of horror movies, and I appreciate the idea that there are so many different kinds of horror movies. There are horror movies that make you laugh and thrill you, and other ones that get under your skin. The movies that I really remember, as far as scaring me and having a real effect on me, have always been the ones that, like you just said, after you watch it, you don’t even know if you liked the movie—you’re just like, “What the fuck just happened?” And later on you start thinking about it and you’re like, “Wow, that was really effective.”

I’m not comparing Lovely Molly to this movie, but when I first watched Do the Right Thing, in a completely different way, you come out of that theater and it’s just like, “What the hell just happened? Am I supposed to like that? Am I supposed to hate that? How am I supposed to feel?” That was really powerful filmmaking, and even though Lovely Molly is a horror movie, and horror movies aren’t supposed to be taken as seriously, I kind of wanted that same effect. I wanted people to come out of the movie without all of the answers, and for it to be something that really haunted them. I wanted it to feel like you’d almost just gone through something with one of your relatives, like it was a real event.

What you just said, that horror movies aren’t supposed to be taken that seriously, makes sense, but it’s also really frustrating to hear, as a horror fan.
Yeah, man. It’s always curious, because Lovely Molly… And, like I said, I’m not comparing Lovely Molly to any of these movies. I think it’s a good film, and I don’t know where it’s going to end up in the history of cinema, or if it’s even going to be remembered. But horror movies, for some reason, never really get the respect that they deserve.

Even a movie like Black Swan, which I think took a lot of the tricks that horror movies use and used them very effectively, I think that’s a very good film, but my thing is, that movie becomes an Oscar contender, and Natalie Portman wins an Oscar for it, but I think Gretchen’s performance is just as great as Natalie Portman’s was, so I’m curious to see what happens with it. But I’m pretty sure it’s not going to get the kind of attention that Black Swan did.

It’s always curious, because I can’t even remember the last horror movie that was nominated for Best Picture. Was it The Sixth Sense?

That sounds about right, unfortunately.
There’s always really great horror movies out there, but, I don’t know if it’s a case where most of them are commercially profitable and have a younger audience, or what the hell it is, most horror movies don’t get the props they deserve. Like a couple years ago, Let the Right One Incomes out, right, and it’s pretty fucking brilliant movie, and there’s nothing. It was, like, completely ignored, and I don’t know why that is. It just seems like horror is a genre that’s not respected, but, to me, some of the best filmmakers around right now are making horror movies.

And it’s always reassuring when a film like Lovely Molly comes along, where the filmmaker clearly didn’t let that sway his vision in any way to make the film less horrific and more accessible.
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not really selling out; to me, I get an idea in my head, and it’s mostly horror movies because that’s what I do, but there’s always a different approach to it. There are always different levels of seriousness, of how the process changes as the idea matures in your head.

This movie, to me, was always supposed to be really, really serious, and almost like a bullet to your brain. One of those movies that affects you in the same ways that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer did, or, even though it was very commercially successful, The Silence of the Lambs. There’s stuff in that movie that can really freak you out. To me, it’s just courageous when you can do that with a straight face.

Lovely Molly is graphic, but it’s graphic in a very kind of serious way. It doesn’t let you laugh at the violence or what’s happening, and some people don’t like that—they feel uncomfortable, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, man. I didn’t want this to be a fun film. [Laughs.]

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