Folklore weighs heavy in this refurbished Shudder horror flick
If you dig deep enough for it, folklore in any culture is not hard to carve into a chilling horror film. Many filmmakers have tried their hand at it. It can produce a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s still good enough for puritan genre enthusiasts. Moloch would be a similarly satisfying experience for people with these inclinations. It accesses familiar grounds in the territory of fatal, cult-like stories that reach out to you. But for the average moviegoer, this film from the Netherlands is skippable, especially if you can’t bear to handle unfinished resolutions shot in dim lighting and eccentric locations, with unfulfilled promise.
Moloch tells the story of Betriek, a widowed mother living with her parents in an obscure village. She experienced a horrifying experience when she was a child. Blood poured on her through the floorboards in the ceiling as she whimpered in a decrypt closet waiting for it to end. This is actually an immensely powerful opening; The titillating execution is near perfect and done with good taste.
As opposed to giving the plot away, it lets you peek in, just for a second, and shuts the door closed before seeing too much. Skip forward almost three decades, the story continues. Betriek once again is on the verge of getting caught up in the maelstrom of cultural anomalies, as new discoveries about the legend of Frieke lead to strange events.
From the outset, a measured tone is chosen for the narrative by director Nico van Brink. The mood is quieter and more observant than contemporary features. Its pacing is not rushed but despite being on the other end of the spectrum, unpolished story development makes it languid instead of steady.
Taking things slow and in a considered fashion was probably Brink’s intention but it turns into a suffocating noose for his story. Brink seemingly lays out little pieces of the puzzle, giving you the incentive to pick them along the way. While some eventually fit, others don’t. In hindsight, the exercise comes off as slightly frustrating, as opposed to exciting. The horror elements remain under construction, only briefly showing glimpses of panache and tangible fright.
Brink is certainly ready to be patient and sculpt his universe brick by brick. He invests a lot of minutes into showing serious-minded conversations between them that reveal a lot about their pasts and what the immediate future holds. Jump scares and gore are the last things you’d associate with Moloch, as the director chooses the lesser trodden path. He has a good sense of the resources at his disposal, creating compelling shots from his isolated locations. The marshlands and dull aesthetics of the village turn into sinister-looking, forces of a maligned nature by night. One of the highlights was the soundtrack. I really felt goosebumps as the tunes played out. Its composition suited the film’s theme and central intrigue.
There are obvious influences behind Moloch that are evident. Hereditary, The Wicker Man, and It Follows are some of the most fitting examples that come to mind. There are remnants of all these classic horror flicks such as the plot, visuals, and score. Moloch does not feel very inventive or original by comparison. But it doesn’t feel like lazy assimilation of these films either. It hangs somewhere in the middle, not quite sure where it wants to belong.
Despite spending so much time with our characters, we are really led nowhere. All these details do not add constructive value to them that could potentially elevate the story later on. We are sort of stuck with them, not knowing what to feel and what to make of them. The part where Brink combines them as a whole never comes. They remain sums of the whole’s parts, not amounting to an impressive whole. I found that the emotion in the story was missing.
In fact, it’s only towards the very end that you actually relate to or root for a character in the film. Generally, horror films are built within this formulaic approach, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Mostly, it is followed and at times it is reinvented. But Moloch does neither – and that is actually worse.
The relationship between Betreik and her daughter could have been the springboard on which Brink could have launched his ambitious project in the genre hall of fame, at least for this year. There are other potential avenues in the story that could have excited us as viewers. Brink does not get us more involved with Moloch’s universe and that leads to its downfall. It is a well-made and acted film no doubt, but stands further back among the sheep, rather than atop and distinguished like a wolf.
Read More: Moloch Ending Explained
Verdict - 6/10