Directed by: Nico van den Brink
Starring: Sallie Harmsen, Alexandre Willaume, Anneke Blok, Fred Goessens
Having mined Christian mythology for all its worth over several
decades, horror filmmakers have recently begun to turn to the creepier
Jewish legends for inspiration. We’ve seen a ton of movies featuring the
dybbuk, and now it’s the turn of that other malicious entity the moloch
to take centre stage in director Nico van den Brink‘s
supernatural thriller of the same name.
While it has its roots in Hebrew lore, the moloch became popular in
continental Europe over the centuries. It’s in a remote corner of the
Netherlands that this particular variation on the theme plays out. In a
1991 set prologue we see young Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) hide in a
cellar as the blood of her butchered grandmother drips through the
floorboards above her. Three decades later and the killer has never been
caught, and the locals believe Betriek’s family has been cursed. Her own
husband died from a surprise heart attack, leaving her to raise their
daughter. Betriek’s father (Fred Goessens), a retired cop, spends
his days drinking in the basement and his nights awake awaiting the
return of the killer, while her mother (Anneke Blok) is slowly
succumbing to an illness that defies doctors.
When a homeless man is found dead, having dug a pit in a local bog,
Betriek’s family find themselves on edge once again. Meanwhile an
archaeological crew has unearthed the well preserved corpses of several
women in said bog, all of varying generations. When one of the diggers
turns psychotic and attempts to murder Betriek, she begins to believe
the curse is about to strike once more.
Broken down to its core elements, Moloch is a rather
clichéd retread of folk-horror staples. But thanks to some convincing
performances, chiefly from the sadly charismatic Harmsen, we find
ourselves invested in its very human characters, which gives it an edge
over most of its genre rivals. Van den Brink does a good job of
establishing a sense of place, with the small, fog-shrouded Dutch
village resembling the hamlet Holmes and Watson travel to in various
cinematic adaptations of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
With creepy human and non-human villains appearing out of the fog,
Moloch owes a visual debt to Carpenter and Fulci, but more
than any cinematic predecessors, van den Brink’s film harks back to the
pulpy 1980s horror novels of British writers like James Herbert and
Shaun Hutson. There’s even a very ’80s improbable sex scene between our
seemingly doomed heroine and a Danish archaeologist (Alexandre Willaume). The latter does his best to save Betriek from her seemingly
impending fate, but in a very Northern European way she’s decided to
accept that she may be cursed. This makes for an interesting conflict
within Betriek as we root for her to finally catch herself on and make
some effort to change her destiny for the better.
Moloch‘s scares are most effective when the threats are kept in the shadows
and fog. When we get a proper look at the titular demon it looks a
little too much like the desiccated space vampires of Tobe Hooper’s much
maligned Lifeforce, an unwelcome interjection of CG in an otherwise practical movie. A
fog machine and Harmsen’s expressive face provide far more production
value than any series of ones and zeroes could accomplish.
Moloch is on Shudder from July 21st.