Alliance Films' February '09 Releases
The Haunting of Molly Hartley (February 24/09)
It's not surprising to note that filmmaker Mickey Liddell - making his directorial debut here - spent several years working behind the scenes on the WB series Everwood, as The Haunting of Molly Hartley has been infused with precisely the sort of attributes one has come to associate with small-screen, teen-friendly fare. The degree to which screenwriters John Travis and Rebecca Sonnenshine consequently stress melodramatic elements is far from unexpected, admittedly, though viewers expecting a horror film through and through will surely walk away disappointed. Following a promising opening in which a father (Jamie McShane) murders his daughter (Jessica Lowndes' Laurel) on the eve of her 18th birthday, The Haunting of Molly Hartley shifts into teen-melodrama mode as it primarily details the title character's (Haley Bennett) efforts at blending into the social fabric of a posh prep school - where she inevitably catches the eye of popular student Joseph Young (Chace Crawford) and embarks upon a rivalry with his bitchy girlfriend (AnnaLynne McCord's Suzie). Liddell has saddled the proceedings with an egregiously deliberate pace that's exacerbated by an ongoing emphasis on Molly's day-to-day exploits within the upper-class institution, and though the director does sporadically punctuate the proceedings with bursts of horror, the majority of such moments have been drained of creepiness and are generally of the sudden-loud-noise variety. The only thing keeping the movie from crossing over into unwatchable territory are its above-average performances, as Bennett and her various costars' better-than-expected work proves effective at basically sustaining the viewer's interest through the more overtly tedious stretches. The inclusion of a nifty twist ending does ensure that the whole thing concludes on a relatively up note (even if it does pose more questions than it answers), yet it's hardly enough to make up for the ineffectiveness of virtually everything preceding it - thus ensuring that The Haunting of Molly Hartley ultimately comes off as an entirely forgettable (and utterly lightweight) horror endeavor.
Though stylishly directed and uniformly well acted, Suburban Mayhem nevertheless comes off as an unpleasant, utterly pointless crime movie that possesses next to no attributes designed to capture (and sustain) the viewer's interest. The woefully thin storyline follows rebellious young woman Katrina Skinner (Emily Barclay) as she wreaks havoc throughout her small Australian neighborhood, with a particular emphasis on the impact that her destructive presence has on her friends and family (including, in terms of the latter, her jailed brother and long-suffering father). The plotless sensibilities of Alice Bell's script grow increasingly problematic as Suburban Mayhem progresses, as there's never a point at which one is drawn into the plight of the central character - which, despite an admittedly striking performance from Barclay, ultimately cements the feeling that Katrina Skinner simply isn't intriguing enough a figure to carry an entire movie on her own. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Bell's decision to stress stand-alone vignettes results in an almost unbearably spotty atmosphere, with the movie largely dominated by pointless interludes that prove a test to one's patience. And while there are a few exceptions to this (ie Katrina's brother attempts to rob a convenience store armed with a samurai sword), Suburban Mayhem's increasingly haphazard modus operandi will surely force even the most forgiving viewer to throw their arms up in frustration. (The astonishingly ugly sequence in which Katrina directs an associate to murder a puppy with a tire iron stands as the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, as one can't help but tune out for the remainder of the movie's interminable running time.)