Folklore is a rich well for horror story influence. Every culture has their own myths and legends, and even those that are shared across borders will have their own spin on things, making them unique. And there’s something ever so creepy about a small community that practices rites and beliefs that the vast majority would consider relegated to history. Moloch taps into these fears, these legends, and gives audiences an atmospheric and intriguing experience.
Moloch begins far in the past of 1991, where thirty years ago a young girl hides in a cupboard, trying to befriend a small mouse, when there are screams and bangs in the room above her. Something terrible happens upstairs, shaking the wooden roof and walls, and soon a cascade of dust and blood rains down upon the girl. Thirty years later, the young girl is now an adult woman named Betriek (Sallie Harmsen), who still lives in the house where her grandmother was murdered, along with her young daughter, and her parents.
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Despite having been in the house when her grandmother was killed, Betriek has a somewhat decent life in her quiet community, though she does occasionally believe herself to be cursed. Her latest worry is her mother’s failing health, as she begins to have seizures and fainting spells. When a local archaeological dig not far from their home find something of interest they hope that it will provide a welcome distraction, and Betriek does find herself attracted to the head scientist, Jonas (Alexandre Willaume). But as the big begins to unearth more bodies of women with their throats slit, strange things start happening, and Betriek begins to think that something terrible is haunting her family.
If you’re looking for a horror film that’s full of jump scares, gore, and things chasing people this isn’t the film for you. Moloch takes a much quieter approach, and will often allow the atmosphere and the slowly unfolding plot unsettle the viewer. There’s a mystery at the heart of this film, information that’s given to you in small pieces over the course of the story that don’t quite make sense at the time. Even the big scene where one of the dig team reads out the local legend, inter-cut with school play where the children act it out, is only a small piece of the puzzle; and despite expectations, doesn’t give you everything you need to understand things.
This doesn’t mean that the film leaves things unexplained, but rather it allows you to make the deductions yourself. Once the film was done and the credits were rolling I understood the vast majority of it, and before the credits had come to an end other pieces had fallen into place as I thought back upon it. The answers are so cleverly done, and the revelations so intriguing that I honestly found myself wanting to go back to watch the movie again with this new perspective. Moloch is the kind of horror film that you can only watch one way once, and that every subsequent viewing will feel very different. And I’m definitely quite excited to go back to it again in the future to see the film with all of this information already known to me.
The film has decent atmosphere, and co-writer/director Nico van der Brink makes good use of the eerie, isolated locations in the film to build a sense of dread and foreboding. During the day you’re treated to views of forests, and still marshland that stretches out into the distance, but once the sun sets the locations take on a much more sinister feeling. It feels oppressive, with the darkness and the fog creeping in to surround the isolated family and their remote home.
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The cast do a good job, and Harmsen in particular stands out in the lead role. Her character always feels like she’s on the edge of just breaking down, and there’s a huge sense of frustration and anger simmering just below the surface. A lot of this comes from her feelings of being cursed, and the events from her past still haunting her. As such, when the strange events of the film begin surrounding her family she feels a drive to investigate further, to figure out what’s happening and stop it before it brings further tragedy into her life. Betriek’s emotional journey is one of the central focuses in the film, and makes it more engaging because of it.
Moloch is a decent horror film that takes some simple ideas and takes them in some new and interesting directions. Thanks to a decent script, a good cast, and some tight directing the film never feels dull, and the mystery is engaging right up to the last minute. An impressive first feature length movie from a director that I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.
Moloch premieres on Shudder on 21st July.