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Artsploitation Serves Up Post-Apocalyptic Girl Power in ‘Molly’

Julia Batelaan and Emma de Paauw in Molly.

Julia Batelaan and Emma de Paauw in Molly.

Molly (2018), the new video release from Artsploitation Films, just might be the highly choreographed, heavily computer-generated slice of Dutch, post-apocalyptic, girl-power cinema you didn’t know you wanted until now. Not to be confused with Mandy (2018), Thelma (2017), Victoria (2015), Lucy (2014), or Hanna (2011), Molly does have similarities with some but not all of these films, essentially that our eponymous protagonist has telekinetic powers that can be harnessed to defend herself and the other beings she cares for. Unlike Eleven in Stranger Things (2016-present) or River in Firefly (2002), Molly is not being hunted down by some governmental higher ups in order to exploit her gifts, but is instead rather being pursued by a gang of dystopian punks who think the best use of their time lies in running some kind of gladiatorial fight club. While Molly no doubt has similarities with a number of films and television programs of recent times, it is still worth watching, as both the lead actress Julia Batelaan and co-directors Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese bring unsmiling charm and uniqueness to the table.

The film starts off right with a hand-to-hand combat scene on a beach which then elaborates into gunfire. I wouldn’t say Molly–the woman, not the film–has it all per se, seeing as how that is difficult to quantify in this futuristic landscape, but this resourceful ginger has a slew of visual qualities and resources including glasses and goggles, knee pads, a bow and arrow, a falcon… even a bear trap. I was a bit weary of the goggles at first, and taken into account with our lead villain Deacon (Joost Bolt) wearing a top hat, I got a bit nervous that things may go into steampunk territory. Luckily this is not the case. When two bit players show up on screen a while later in gas masks, I was happy to realize this was right after a gaseous projectile exploded–there are a number of times that Molly makes us wonder to what the extent of these characters’ powers is, but this was not one of them.

I recall another reviewer recently mentioning that Molly has similarities to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but this is a bit misleading. That film relies on fast cars and gas-guzzling intensity, which do not make an appearance in the film in question here. This is similar to saying that Molly is like The Hunger Games (2012), which is true insofar as both protagonists are physically and mentally strong young women with a talent for archery–but you know what Molly doesn’t have? A $78 million dollar budget. In fact, it was apparently made for not much more than $300,000, which is kind of remarkable, all things considered. In this age of blockbuster excess, my respect often goes out first to the ultra-low-budget warriors out there.

Other speculative comparisons include Tank Girl (1995) that awkwardly 90’s sci fi comedy about a world where almost all the water has run out, and more recently Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch (2016). However, Molly doesn’t have the Tarantinoid, smart-ass style that blesses and curses The Bad Batch, which is also about a woman wandering through vicious, post-apocalyptic landscapes. What Molly also doesn’t have, to its detriment, is a well fleshed out or impression-leaving side show of characters like an unrecognizable Jim Carrey playing a hermit, or Keanu Reeves as a cult leader named The Dream. Aside from the titular character, Molly is a lean, no frills production, which works to its benefit, but also occasionally as an under-developed drawback.

One notable flourish is the climactic shot of the film, which appears to be single and continuous, lasting over 30 minutes. It is ambitious, and I suspect aided by some masking techniques that hide cuts (not that this is disingenuous, but rather tactful), but my question when watching technical feats such as this is always… why? When Hitchcock tried to make Rope (1948) basically one long shot, it made sense as a filmic exercise that had never been done before. As soon as he tried a series of long shots like this again the next year in Under Capricorn (1949), it lead to questioning the very point, aside from displaying a certain cinematic virtuosity. It is a trick that has been tried here and there ever since, for various purposes, and in Molly, the answer to “why” might be the cumulative exhaustion among viewers that mirrors the plight of our protagonist. It is fun, but sometimes borders on feeling like a video game we can’t control. The long take is also a selling point of the Japanese zombie film One Cut of the Dead (2017), which has recently been doing the festival rounds, but I’ll hold my judgement until seeing that. For now it is worth noting how disseminating functional digital technology to more filmmakers allows for techniques like this to happen more often.

Artsploitation has put out a number of interesting little films in the past few years, focusing on odd European pictures with cult potential, a few of my favorites being Der Samurai (2014), Der Bunker (2015), and the Australian Red Christmas (2016). While Molly is a production from The Netherlands, all of the dialogue is in English, and for those who enjoy it, it appears there is a prequel on the way called Kill Mode, which fleshes out the larger world surrounding the main character here.

About Joseph E. Dwyer

Joseph Dwyer is an assistant web editor at Diabolique, where he concentrates on the Legacies of Sade and Watching the Watchdogs columns. His major interests are freedom of speech, desire, and dissent in horror/cult cinema. He lives in Oakland, CA, and has academic degrees from the San Francisco Art institute and Hampshire College.

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