You know you're in trouble when even the title doesn't make sense.
To clarify, The Haunting of Molly Hartley -- one of precious few options for cinematic thrills and chills this Halloween -- doesn't actually have anything to do with a haunting.
Having survived a recent attempt on her life by her scissors-wielding mother, our heroine Molly -- a sullen 17-year-old -- now finds herself plagued by nosebleeds, panic attacks and creepy visions of that same stabbing.
But given that Molly's mom is still very much alive -- cooped up in a mental hospital, but alive nonetheless -- the visions can't technically be considered a haunting, since that tends to involve ghosts and spirits and such.
So really, a more accurate title would have been The Annoying Flashbacks of Molly Hartley, or Molly Hartley's Possibly Genetic Mental Disorder or even Molly Hartley's Series of Super-Sucky Unfortunate Events.
See, in the wake of the dustup with Mom, our Molly (a wan Haley Bennett) and her father (Medium's Jake Weber) decide to get a fresh new start by moving to another part of town.
Never mind that most normal people would have moved to another city, state or even country -- apparently Molly and her dad just needed a change of neighbourhood to offset any mental duress caused by the attempted momicide.
Clearly, neither had considered the fact that word might eventually get around, but once it does, Molly must contend with both the flashbacks and the fact that nearly everyone at her fancy new prep school thinks she's descended from loonies.
Oh, and when Mom -- who may or may not be crazy, remember -- finally makes the short trip to the new house, she claims she's been trying to kill Molly in order to protect her from some sort of deal she made with the Devil, who plans to come calling on Molly's 18th birthday (which, coincidentally, is just days away).
Now, if director Mickey Liddell had focused more on whether or not Molly was just acting paranoid, he might have had a decent little psychological thriller on his hands (the premise certainly worked for Rosemary's Baby, and to a lesser extent, The Omen).
But instead, he makes it absolutely clear -- via a not-very-scary prologue -- that Molly's mom is 100% legit, and that some kind of shady, Satanic element will likely be crashing Molly's birthday party.
He also makes every other mistake that hack horror directors are so fond of: He uses overbearing music cues (and already dated snippets of indie-rock), he casts bland actors who barely register as human beings (check out Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford as the sympathetic jock), and he commits the cardinal sin of including waaay too many fakeouts (not realizing that once an audience has been duped three or four times in a row, they'll probably forget to react when the real scares come along).
Not that there are any real scares to be had here, unless you count whatever slippery religious logic leads Molly to wade into a baptismal font with her school's resident Bible-thumper.
Even the ending -- which we'll assume was supposed to portend big trouble for all of humanity -- is rendered so ineptly, it practically begs to be greeted with a shrug.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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