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Movie Review

Eerie music. Slowly moving shadows. Bang! A clump of letters drops through the mail slot in the door. Even the most mundane of life's events turns into a sinister scare in this jumpfest of a fright flick. A greeting from a friend in the library. A light switch turning on a bulb in the next room. Water running in the bathroom sink.

Molly Hartley has just moved to a new high school. But where most kids would be simply worrying about fitting in, this 17-year-old has a lot more on her plate. Not only is she wrestling with scary flashback visions of her mom's recent wigged-out attack on her with a pair of scissors, but she's been experiencing frequent headaches and bloody noses. And she's hearing odd whispering voices—not to mention the mail thumping down in the front hallway.

Is she going crazy, too?

Her suddenly attentive dad tries to soothe her fears, but Molly isn't buying the idea that psychiatrists and medicines can make her troubles go away. She doesn't think Jesus can help much, either, despite the fact that a Christian girl at school says so. To her, sneaking out to a party with rebellious-girl Leah and flirting with rich-kid Joseph seems like a better plan to push down her rising panic.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The clock won't let her be, though. Her 18th birthday is just around the corner. And Molly has an eerie gut feeling that there won't be much to celebrate once it arrives.

[Note: To explore this film's spiritual twists and turns, the following sections contain major plot spoilers.]

Positive Elements

Molly's dad is a nice guy who has suddenly realized that he needs to hold his daughter's wellbeing above everything else. He tells her, "We're not going to let anything happen to you." He strives diligently to find the right doctors to help her through what he sees as mental and physical problems.

Molly refuses to kill her father even when she's told it's the only way for her to avoid her dark fate.

Spiritual Content

On the day she was born, Molly's parents made a "deal" with a mysterious woman to save their dying daughter. It involved selling her soul to "The Darkness," or "Them," as the devil is most often referred to here. It is agreed that They can claim her when she turns 18.

While not knowing this, Molly still wrestles with an impending sense of dread about a spiritual evil that threatens to possess her.

And Molly's not the only one who's been sold to Satan. In fact, pretty much everyone she knows is either owned by The Darkness or has done business with it. Even Molly's Christian friend ultimately becomes a tool of the devil before the nightmare ends.

Speaking of Alexis, it's worth noting that she makes some very clear statements about personal faith and salvation through Jesus Christ. She defends Scripture. She tells Molly that she prays for her regularly. And she tells her that she must believe in Jesus' saving power ("If you accept Christ into your heart, you will be blessed with eternal salvation, spiritual protection, grace"). When the tormented teen pleads for God's help, Alexis baptizes Molly in a church baptismal, reciting specific liturgy involving the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She concludes her speech by asking, "Do you wish to be baptized to seal this faith?"

In several flashback scenes Molly's deranged mother asks her to pray. In one case Molly does so, saying tentatively, "Forgive me, I have sinned." Later, a fearful Molly falls to her knees and earnestly cries out for God's forgiveness, telling those around her that, "God always gives us a choice." Her tormentors mock her words and, indeed, the young girl finds no rescue or relief—until she's fully taken over by The Darkness. Only then does she feel peace and find her reason for living. (More on that in our "Conclusion.")

A teacher, failing to help his students understand the prose of Paradise Lost, hands out Bibles for them to study. Several of the high schoolers strongly protest the idea of reading a Bible as part of their studies, and one says she refuses to do so. Leah tells Molly to "ditch the Bible thumper."

A crazed father (not Molly's) puts his hand on a Bible as he tries to kill himself and his soon-to-turn-18 daughter.

Sexual Content

Molly and several other girls wear low-cut tops or short, form-fitting dresses. Molly's school counselor also sports a cleavage-baring blouse. In her room, Molly strips off her top, revealing her bra as she changes before bed. In silhouette, she's seen taking off her pants. Joseph and Molly flirt and kiss. Leah asks if Molly has a "weird psycho-sexual disorder."

Violent Content

Screeching sounds. Loud wallops. Flashing lights. And sharp objects. Molly's mom stabs at or threatens to stab Molly with scissors and a knife on several occasions. After she's almost killed by her mother, Molly is seen with bloodied hands and a wound on her upper chest. During a final struggle, Molly shoves her mom over an upstairs railing. The woman crashes face-first to the floor below. When Molly rolls her body over, the knife is seen sticking out of it.

When told to kill her father, Molly instead stabs herself in the chest twice with a large knife. (It doesn't produce any blood, and doesn't even hurt her; she's already been fully "possessed.")

After that other dad wrecks his truck, he uses a wicked-looking shard of glass to finish off his daughter.

Molly gets into a push-and-shove tussle with a girl at a party. She ends up grabbing and breaking her opponent's arm. Still in the water after the baptism, Alexis grabs Molly in a choke hold and attempts to drown her. Molly breaks free and Alexis' head is bashed against a marble ledge. (Blood drips on her face and covers her hand when Alexis reaches to touch the wound.) Molly clocks Dad with a vase. He is later dragged, bleeding, into a room by bad guys.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word. A half-dozen s-words. The words "h---," "a--," "d--n" and "b--ch" also show up a couple of times each. God's name is misused a handful of times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Leah grinds out a cigarette under her shoe. At the party, Molly, Leah and a large number of other teens slug back beer and mixed drinks. Leah is obviously—and admittedly—"wasted" long before it's over.

Other Negative Elements

Leah steals a drink from the lunch counter at school. Molly lies to her dad to sneak out to a party.


Whether it's TV comedies, multiplex scarefests or young-adult vampire novels, it seems that pretty much everyone nowadays agrees that a little spiritual twisting is the way to go. Just like The Reaper on the CW—and countless other tales both new and old—The Haunting of Molly Hartley indulges the idea that a parent's moment of weakness and need could somehow result in the eternal damnation of a child's soul by way of a deal with the devil. A bargain with Beelzebub.

But here's the recent wrinkle: Almost always, these stories end up with the devil's due generating hellish unhappiness, pain and suffering for everyone involved—especially the one whose soul has been made forfeit. Even while plumbing for laughs, The Reaper makes it clear that the devil's a bad dude and that serving him is, at the very least, a pain in the neck. Not so with Molly Hartley. After Molly is claimed by The Darkness, she finally finds ... fulfillment. And she's given "power like no one before you."

This is a twist of the same sort that arrives at the end of the recently popular Twilight books, in which Bella can't become all she should be until she sheds her mortal coil and takes up the undead life of a vampire. This is the trend: Be unpredictable at any cost, even if it means taking spiritual truth and turning it on its head.

Alexis talks to Molly at length about salvation through Christ. And our heroine falls to her knees crying out for God's mercy. But all along, the film's intent is to point out what it sees as the powerlessness of faith. The sole Christian character is an outcast and a simpleton. The wicked are vibrant, beautiful and influential.

And that leaves us with this goofy-yet-disturbing moral: Beg your parents to sell your soul to Satan, 'cause that's the only way you'll get to be healthy, wealthy and wise when you reach the magical age of 18.

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Haley Bennett as Molly Hartley; Jake Weber as Robert Hartley; Chace Crawford as Joseph Young; Shannon Marie Woodward as Leah; Shanna Collins as Alexis


Mickey Liddell ( )


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