Starring: Sallie Harmsen, Anneke Blok, Alexandre Willaume
Review: RJ Bland
One of the great things about horror is that it is always re-inventing itself. It rarely stands still for very long – it's possibly one of the most reactionary genres out there and that makes it difficult to predict. The idea that slashers and folk horror would be in fashion would have seemed a tall order a few years ago but here we are, with both finding their feet once again. Now whilst the modern slashers have been rather hit and miss (yes, we're looking at you Fear Street and Slumber Party Massacre) – we have had some really excellent fresh folky stuff. Robert Egger's The Witch and Ari Aster's Midsommar may steal most of the limelight but The Ritual, Men, In the Earth and Hagazussa show that they aren't outliers. Folk horror is back baby! Why? Well, perhaps the glut of global issues that weigh heavily on a lot of us every day mean that we like our horror to be a bit more pastoral or remind us of a simpler time. Or maybe we just enjoy seeing naïve people get their comeuppance in rural locations! One of the great things is the sense of place that folk horror can evoke. Alex Garland's Men may make us think twice about visiting sleepy little English villages and Nico van den Brink's new film, Moloch, may see us avoiding any trips to any Dutch peat bogs...
Betriek is a thirty something (and recently widowed) musician who has moved back from New York to her family home in the northern Nertherlands with her daughter Hanna in tow. Her family have lived at the edge of a peat bog for generations but Betriek struggles to re-integrate herself into a community that she thought she had left behind. Although her mother's mental health seems to be flagging, it's a relatively content household. Things take a turn when the centuries old body of a woman is discovered preserved in the peat bog near her home and Betriek befriends Jonas, the guy heading up the archeological dig. However, the excavation coincides with a series of unsettling events that pose a potential threat to Betriek's family. We soon realise that a childhood trauma may be directly linked to what is currently unfolding...
Like all good folk horror, Moloch really excels at creating a sense of time and place. The fog-drenched backdrop, the quirky locals and a gloomy aesthetic all contribute to an atmosphere of foreboding and quiet dread. A lot of the threat is implied and we are operating in a world where beneath a rather quaint European small town exterior, lie some dark and disturbing secrets. As the mystery begins to unravel, Moloch gently leans into its more supernatural elements and fortunately, these are largely realised in subtle yet suitably disturbing ways. Van den Brink shows us enough, but no so much that it strays into fantasy and feels silly (cough* Mama). For a low-budget film, the effects aren't too shabby either. In fact, a couple of times they are borderline terrifying. Underpinning all this we have a genuinely creepy mythology that cleverly mirrors real life discoveries of bog mummies found in Northern Europe. Like The Autopsy of Jane Doe, there's a real sense of unease to feast on with just the mere presence of a creepy looking cadaver enough to send shivers down the spine. Saying that, Moloch isn't all about build up and there's a smattering of something a bit more ferocious every now and then.
For some the pacing may feel a little ponderous but the family drama elements are intriguing enough to keep us invested on the whole. At the heart of it all is Sallie Harmsen (Blade Runner 2049) who is excellent as Betriek, a complex character who does her best to navigate motherhood, past trauma, a new relationship and a rather insidious and largely opaque threat. Some scripts would really double down on the mother-daughter relationship but the script (by Daan Bakker and Director Nico van den Brink) allows Betriek the freedom to not be defined by this bond. The result is a relatively trope free story. A solid supporting cast elevate this low-budget effort too – with the experienced Alexandre Willaume offering a nice contrast as the coldly logical love interest.
There are a few twists and turns in the final act and these help propel Moloch towards a somewhat stirring conclusion. Like all good creeping folk horrors, this is one that slowly works its way under your skin and refuses to budge easily. If chilly Euro horrors are your thing, Moloch won't disappoint.