Thursday, November 6, 2008


Since he produced 50 episodes of “Everwood,” executive producer Mickey Liddell has gotten some other ideas about the trials that single fathers face raising their teenage daughters. Liddell transplants the “Everwood” premise to a horror setting in his directorial debut with “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” (** out of ****), a lukewarm supernatural chiller about the demonic possession of a paranoid 17-year old prep school student and her single dad who worries about her safety. Clearly, Liddell and his scenarists missed the spectacular “Omen” sequel “Damien: Omen II” (1978) about a 13-yeard old private school student who took advantage of his powers as the anti-Christ to wreak anarchy. Imagine what the Roman Polanski classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) would have been like if the infant had been forced to wait until her 18th birthday to emerge as evil incarnate, and you’ve got a good idea what is in store for you with this predictable PG-13 thriller.

Additionally, “The Haunting” does itself no favors with its negative frontal assault on mainstream evangelical Christianity. As one of the villains, a deranged female Christian teen tries to drown our troubled heroine so Satan cannot claim her soul. “The Haunting” may rake in millions at the box office east, west, and north, but you can already hear Tupelo-based Donald Wildman leveling broadsides against it here in the South. Aside from some intense scares that may startle some, this low-budget, derivative thriller lacks the element of surprise. “The Haunting” qualifies as a revisionist horror movie, too. In traditional horror pictures, Good conquers Evil. In revisionist horror epics, however, Evil triumphs over Good. “American Zombie” scenarist Rebecca Sonnenshine rewrote freshman writer John Travis’ script, but neither Mickey Liddell nor she can do much with this hokum. Banal dialogue, contrived predicaments, incoherent writing, and hopeless stereotypes eviscerate the horror content.

“The Haunting” opens with a pre-credit scene whose characters that have nothing to do with the rest of the film, but serve to put the plot into context. The year is 1997, and Laura (Jessica Lowndes) has a rendezvous with her boyfriend Michael (Randy Wayne) in the woods at an abandoned house. Laura’s father (Jamie McShane) appears unexpectedly and hauls his daughter away from Michael and into his truck. Careening off down the road with her, the father pulls into the path of a laden farm vehicle that T-bones them in a violent crash. The grieving father grabs a broken piece of mirror and stabs his daughter to death to save her from ‘the darkness.’ “The Haunting” then shifts to the present day and the problems that Molly Hartley (Jodie Foster look-alike Haley Bennett of “Music & Lyrics”) faces as she shows up at an elitist prep school Huntington Academy.

Molly’s life has been anything but a picnic. Molly’s mom Jane (Marin Hinkle of “Quarantine”) tried to kill her by stabbing her in the chest. Since the incident occurred, Jane Hartley has been locked away in an asylum near the town that Molly’s dad Robert (Jake Webber of “U-571”) has decided to locate near so they can visit her. Molly is neither crazy about her new school nor its atrocious uniform apparel. Strange things happen when Molly enters an English class where they are analyzing British poet John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” At one point, blood drips from her nose when she opens the Bible. Clearly, old Nick isn't happy. Moreover, Molly has begun to hear voices. Worse, she hallucinates that her mother is trying to finish what she started. Desperate to save herself, Molly converts to Christianity at the insistence of Alexis who tries to drown her in the baptistery.

“The Haunting” relies on a gallery of stereotypes. Molly’s father forever frets about her welfare. Huntington Academy hunk Joseph Young (Chase Crawford of “The Covenant”) has babes smacking each other around over him. Joseph is the son of the wealthiest man in town. Joseph’s jealous, blond, ex-girlfriend Suzie (AnnaLynne McCord of “Transporter 2”) refuses to give him up without fighting Molly. Their catfight concludes too quickly, but Suzie’s comeuppance is amusing. You know dark-haired Leah (Shannon Marie Woodward of “The Comebacks”) is the bad girl because she smokes marihuana in the girl’s lavatory, pilfers cafeteria lunch items, and wears torn fishnet hose. Born-again scholarship babe Alexis (Shanna Collins of “War of the Worlds”) alienates everybody with her complete lack of tact.

Altogether, “The Haunting” qualifies as a chick-flick friendly horror opus about a teenager-in-turmoil. Hardcore horror fanatics will feel cheated by the scarcity of blood & gore. The menacing moments consist of birds flying out of nowhere and snarling dogs suddenly lunging up against chain-link fences. Mail plunging through a drop slot in the door at Molly’s house sounds like an avalanche. Indeed, Liddell suggests the violence more often than shows it. You won’t see any knives penetrating flesh. Several characters die, but Liddell artfully conceals the gruesome details. Typically, mainstream PG-13 movies for teens cannot show them imbibing alcoholic beverages without receiving an R-rating that cuts into the film's box office earnings. Molly’s mother takes a header off a balcony, somersaulting between the floors before she lands face down on the bottom with virtually no damange done to her physique. Clocking in at 86 marginal minutes, “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” will leave you wanting for something more stimulating like “Rosemary’s Baby.”

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