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The "what" of Molly -- the wasteland, the zombies, the vengeful leader of a mercenary army -- are not the core appeal of the film, echoing the Mad Max movies and that series' many imitators. What makes Molly special is that the film is a true independent production, shot on a reported budget of around $300,000 (unclear whether that's in dollars or euros). The movie has a scrappy charm to it even as it treads familiar ground, and it's mighty impressive what co-directors Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese (the latter of whom also wrote the script) were able to accomplish on such limited means. The film might actually be too ambitious -- the headline-grabbing final sequence is probably a good example of the difference between "best" and "most" -- but it's laudable even in its most excessive moments.
Shot almost entirely on location in what I assume is the Netherlands (with a few key shots in England), Bongers and Meuwese let the scenery do some of the work for them. Although there is a bit of repetition in the film's location work (one senses they're seeing the same beach and bunker more than once), there are some impressive shots lead actor Batelaan trudging along trails and through forests that evoke that classic sci-fi wasteland feel. Not ones to skimp on spectacle, the duo also spike these sequences right from the opening scene with wild fight scenes between Molly and various attackers. Even when these fight scenes are not entirely convincing (which, to be frank, is pretty common; you can feel the punches being pulled and artificially emphasized with sound design), they are nonetheless compelling because the effort feels so real. There are no wires and sometimes no cuts, and the palpable exhaustion gives the action a certain edge.
These fight scenes are building to that aforementioned final sequence: the entire last 31 minutes of the movie -- yes, over a half hour of the film -- is presented as if it were one continuous shot, in which Molly breaks into Deacon's fortress to try and rescue Bailey. Although one can tell that there are carefully hidden cuts within the sequence, the finished sequence is convincing enough that it becomes exhausting. To some extent, that's probably the idea, as Molly is put through a real gauntlet of horrors, but there are chunks of it (including a part where Molly ends up in the supplicants' cages, or an extended piece where she's caught on a chain and the camera turns upside down) that feel as if they go on too long or don't add much to the experience of the journey. Hats off to Bongers and Meuwese for pulling off something so outrageous, but the sequence feels as if it could've used a polish in the scriptwriting stage to make sure every moment felt vital.
Outside of the impressive filmmaking technique, Molly is a little less effective. Deacon is not a very interesting villain, nor is his plan particularly complex. Meuwese has intentionally left out much of the details surrounding the world the characters are living in, which is fine, but the flashback sequences feel a bit half-baked when they don't really reveal much about Molly that isn't also covered in the dialogue. Instead, it would have been fun to see Molly exploring and learning more about her abilities as the film goes on (the various reveals are all effective, but there's only a couple of them). What does work is Molly's relationship with Bailey, which is written with an effective sparseness and elevated as both actors give impressive and interesting performances (Batelaan exuding a twitchy, slightly feral energy, and de Pauuw playing a lonely innocent who holds out hope that her parents are returning while the audience already knows their fate). Despite any reservations one has with the final sequence, it's a testament to the strength of the relationship between those characters that the viewer roots for Molly with each punch, stab, and kick.
Molly has a really fantastic piece of key art, which is a photograph but has the bold colors and composition of an old-fashioned piece of Drew Struzan artwork, featuring all of the characters and a hint of the world. Only quibble is that Julia Batelaan's credit seems to have slipped behind one of the other Photoshop layers. The one-disc release comes in a cheap Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
It's sometimes hard to assess certain aspects of Molly's 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer. Early sequences, out in the wilderness, have an inconsistent blown-out look that I would say is part of the original photography, although perhaps not entirely intentional. On the other hand, the photography boasts a bold color scheme throughout that reads more like an artistic choice. The image has a digital crispness and depth throughout, and I did not notice any compression artifacts or instances of banding. Sound is a standard-definition Dolby Digital 5.1 track that features some nice mixing that adds a bit of weight to the movie's low-budget aesthetic, especially when Molly uses her special abilities. It's a shame there is not a full-blown HD audio track to go with the video, but the disc sounds pretty nice. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
There are two extras on the disc. First, is an audio commentary by co-director and writer Thijs Meuwese. Although the packaging advertises co-director Colinda Bongers as well, Meuwese explains at the very beginning of the track that she was busy working on a screenplay assignment and could not pull herself away to be on the track. Meuwese holds his own, speaking openly about the challenges of making the movie, how it developed both in the writing of the script and then later in the editing room, and is candid about choices that he and Bongers made that may not have been the most effective. He also talks about the thought processes, challenges, and work that went into the movie's wild 30-minute ending sequence.
The other extra is a behind-the-scenes documentary (31:22), which generally takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to the making of the movie, cutting between film footage, B-roll, and other behind-the-scenes material such as stunt rehearsals or footage captured via drone. Fun bits include seeing Batelaan shooting the bird material in a parking lot with a greenscreen behind her (which Meuwese mentions in his commentary), side-by-side "previs" material of the actors (and a couple of stand-ins) blocking a sequence vs. the finished product, a peek at shooting the extended final sequence, the crew goofing around with Emma de Paauw, and a set tour with Batelaan and directors Meuwese and Bongers. The piece is divided into chapters based on what was being filmed.
An original theatrical trailer for Molly is also included.
Molly is an imperfect but endearing independent feature that can't quite breathe life into an overly familiar story but has enough spunk and and scrappy energy that it won me over anyway. Batelaan is someone to watch, and so are co-directors Bongers and Meuwese (the latter of whom appears to have already made a follow-up feature in which Batelaan returns as Molly). Artsploitation has done a good job with the film on Blu-ray as well, even with a lossy audio track and the lack of Bongers on the commentary. Recommended.
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