A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that teens may be drawn to this horror movie by co-star Chace Crawford, who's part of the cast of Gossip Girl. There's some violent, scary stuff, but it's also mostly bloodless (particularly when compared to movies like the Saw franchise) -- more blood is seen from the lead character's stress-induced nosebleeds than from any of the movie's stabbings, assaults, and murders. The film includes a lot of religious imagery and plot points -- characters read Paradise Lost and the Bible, the lead character is baptized in an effort to remove the diabolical influences she's experiencing, and more.
What's the story?
THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY revolves around the title teen, Molly (Haley Bennett), who's getting over some tough stuff -- her mother tried to kill her in a paranoid rage, claiming she had to "save" Molly -- while trying to find her feet in a new town, fit in at her new school, and make new friends. Unfortunately, she's troubled by visions, headaches, and whispers that only she can hear. Molly's dad (Jake Weber) assures her that things are going to be OK -- but what if they aren't? As her 18th birthday approaches, Molly learns that, when she was born, her parents pledged her to dark forces who would claim her when she turned 18. Molly struggles to discover whether that outlandish claim is even possible ... and what, if anything, she can do about it if so.
Is it any good?
The Haunting of Molly Hartley is a modest horror-thriller; in fact, if anything, it's too modest, relying on music cues and cheap surprises instead of actual suspense. Bennett (last seen as a Britney-esque teen pop star in the comedy Music and Lyrics) is a charming, easy-to-watch lead actress, but she's not given much to work with here, stumbling from plot point to plot point with a dazed, slightly upset look on her face. In an age when TV shows like Reaper and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and (more explicit and violent) films like Teeth and The Faculty have wrung horror out of the classes, clashes, and cliques of high school, The Haunting of Molly Hartley feels curiously constrained, as if the filmmakers didn't have the brains, bravery, or budget to kick things up a notch.
Director Mickey Liddell does manage to work in a few moments of actual suspense: Is the nice, born-again girl (Shanna Collins) in Molly's classes really not so nice? Is the handsome smile of the school's cutest boy (Chace Crawford) hiding a secret? But the film's finale is so shabby -- and so sudden -- that the film ends not with a bang but a whimper. The Haunting of Molly Hartley isn't too violent, isn't too scary, and isn't too over-the-top; unfortunately, it isn't too memorable, either.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the philosophical and belief-related points suggested by the film. What do you believe in? Do you have to believe the same things that movie and TV characters do in order to empathize with them? Why or why not? Families can also discuss the film's subplot, in which the lead character was pledged to Satan by her parents at birth in order to save her life. Do children have to pay for the mistakes their parents make?
- In theaters: October 31, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 23, 2009
- Cast: Chace Crawford, Haley Bennett, Jake Weber
- Director: Mickey Liddell
- Studio: ShowBiz Studios
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: strong thematic material, violence and terror, brief strong language and some teen drinking
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