Yeah. Like I said earlier, I’ve always wanted to make film like The Exorcist, then my writing partner came up with the idea about a movie where a person video-tapes themselves going through what is, or what they think is, a demonic possession. It’s kind of weird, because he usually does most of the writing; he’s the kind of writer who can sit down and finish a script in a week. He’s that good, but I can’t do that. I don’t really consider myself to be a real writer. I think I can write, but, like Martin Short said, “I’m not that strong a swimmer.”
The idea just kind of took me over, man. When I was about halfway through writing Lovely Molly, Paranormal Activity hadn’t come out yet, but somebody sent it to me a few months before it came out in theaters. I thought it was a good film, and all the sudden I was like, “Should I be doing something like this?” And that’s kind of where the idea came to not make it a first-person movie, because I was never really interested in making it a found-footage movie. But I did realize how powerful the found-footage genre can be, from Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, and all the other really good examples.
My thing was, can I mix it up? Can I do a movie that doesn’t have the limitations of first-person cinema, where the camera doesn’t have to be on all the time and there always has to be a character operating it? And there has to be a reason to always have the camera on, which I think can be very limiting. Can I mix that in with conventional photography? So it was kind of an experiment that just came to me, and luckily I think it works pretty well. It opens things up a little bit; like I said, you don’t have to come up with a reason to keep the camera on at all times.
Was it difficult to find that healthy balance between first-person perspective and more conventional filmmaking?
Well, to me, once I made the decision, it was actually very liberating because there was a very specific rhythm that I wanted to follow in the script and then in the film. The film is pretty unconventionally structured; it doesn’t really take the turns that you think it’s going to take. I did that on purpose. There’s something about the rhythm of this movie that’s a mix between a first-person movie and a regular movie, because there is a different rhythm in those first-person films.
Once I decided that I wasn’t going to do it completely in first-person, it liberated me a bit, because I could do whatever I wanted and whenever I needed a first-person beat, I could just stick that in. It was kind of funny, I realized that I was examining this character who almost has multiple personalities, and the video camera was showing the audience one of the personalities. That was a lucky thing that I just stumbled onto; it started working and giving me a completely different point-of-view, not only cinematically but also character-wise.
You’re seeing things that a normal person wouldn’t be video-taping, like when she looks for the little girl and looks through the window, these really creepy, voyeuristic shots. To me, that’s not the Molly we’ve seen, and it was pretty exciting to stumble onto that.
One scene, in particular, where that’s used to a really interest effect is when her husband, Tim, slowly walks downstairs and watches her speak directly into her camera. It’s something that you don’t typically see in first-person movies, where you have that secondhand view of the person with the camera, sort of an outsider-looking-in angle.
Yeah, I didn’t know if it was going to work. That’s what made the movie really exciting to me, that I was trying something new, at least for me. You don’t have all the answers, and that’s what makes filmmaking exciting to me lately: You prepare just enough, but you also kind of leave things a little bit up to chance. There’s a lot of magic that comes from taking those kinds of risks.
When I saw the film at SXSW, during the post-screening Q&A you mentioned that one of the ideas behind Lovely Molly is to ask the question, “How do you deal with demonic possession when you don’t have health insurance?” Was that one of the narrative lynchpins from day one?
It wasn’t a really conscious thing. What I always thought was curious about The Exorcist is that it’s this really uncommon thing that’s happening to a movie star. It was a very strange kind of choice of character, and it totally worked for that movie, but I wanted to take the total opposite approach. I wanted to see what would happen when your husband doesn’t have health insurance and he’s not educated at all for this type of situation, whether it’s mental illness or demonic possession.
What do you do when you don’t have experts around? Or, when the experts themselves don’t know what to do? That’s why the Pastor Bobby character in Lovely Molly was interesting to me. He’s the guy that typically comes into a movie, rolls up his sleeves, and says, “Alright, I’m gonna take care of this.” Even if he doesn’t succeed, at least he tries. To me, Pastor Bobby immediately became part of the problem. [Laughs.] And he ended up paying the ultimate price for it.
It was really interesting to delve into a story where the typical hero is not a hero, and even the typical main character does the most heinous things ever, things that are completely unforgivable yet she’s still the main character.
The creepiest parts of Lovely Molly, for me, revolved around the occult mythology that’s hinted at throughout, specifically with Baphomet and all of that imagery. Going into this project, did you have to research that occult lore, or have you always been fascinated by it? Come to think of it, there are traces of it in The Blair Witch Project, too.
I’ve always had an interest in it, man, but it’s always been a scary interest, an interest where I’m fascinated by it but also really afraid of it. Even though my faith has really been diminished in the last 20 years, I was raised Catholic—not strict Catholic, but I was raised pretty Christian. My mom is still a very devout Christian; she’s gone from everything to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Catholicism to Baptists, but one thing that she always ingrained in me, and I think it’s one of the reasons why she let me watch The Exorcist—probably too young, really—was the fact that the Devil was real. If you believe in what Jesus and God did, then you had to believe in the Devil.