Is it possible to watch a post-apocalyptic movie and not think of Mad Max? In this day and age, given the wide range of media that franchise influences, not really. But there are ways for a film to maneuver around the most iconic elements from those Australian hits. For instance, if your post-apocalypse did not feature many if any, vehicles. Just like that, you have crafted a slightly original take on the genre.
Enter directors Thijs Meuwese and Colinda Bongers with their genre-bending Molly, from a screenplay by Meuwese. Audiences are introduced to the titular Molly (Julia Batelaan- not to be confused with Jessica Chastain, who plays a character with the same name in Molly’s Games but in a different scenario of a dangerous underground poker game) as she is running across the desert from crazed marauders. Once close enough, Molly begins beating them down with her fighting prowess. Then all of the sudden Molly sends one of them flying across the sandy dunes. Mind you, not via a powerful punch, nor a properly timed kick, but rather her superpowers. One survives and runs to tell the delusional warlord Deacon (Joost Bolt) about this girl with amazing abilities.
This is one of the strongest openings of any movie in recent memory. Visually, the bold color choices for the costumes contrast the arid wasteland beautifully and instantly hook anyone watching. The long takes highlight the impressive choreography and that the actors are, for the most part, doing their own stunts. Each punch, kick, and grapple have a strong impact, making the fights, and by extension this world and these characters, all the more realistic.
“…Molly begins beating them down…not via a powerful punch, nor a properly timed kick, but rather her superpowers.”
After that hard-hitting introduction, the film becomes a bit of a slow burn. Aside from setting up what Deacon plans to do with our young hero, character development and plot take a backseat to the film’s overall atmosphere and mood. Molly wanders hunting for food with her faithful falcon; she bathes; she explores, and just tries to live off the land. A few more of Deacon’s goons show up, and another fight happens. Molly is almost captured but breaks free.
This section features phenomenal cinematography by Kris Patmo but lacks the visceral intensity of the opening. The use of color is still forceful and brings to mind the graphic novel ApocalyptiGirl, and I mean that in the best possible. All the colors, from the props to the costumes to the tents and few oases scattered throughout the harsh terrain are vibrant and pop right off the screen. However, it also feels a bit repetitive at times.
That is until after being injured in a wholly gratuitous fight with a zombie-like being, Molly staggers into Bailey’s (Emma de Paauw) camp. The child is reserved at first, threatening Molly with all her might, but acquiesces when she sees the extent of Molly’s wounds. The two form a friendship, partially out of necessity, but mostly out of a longing for companionship. Now, with Deacon’s best warriors, including the formidable Kimmy (Annelies Appelhof), tracking her down, Molly must keep herself and Bailey safe.
“…one of the strongest openings of any movie in recent memory…”
Batelaan is the lifeblood of Molly. This role is both quite physically and emotionally exhaustive, and without her star-making turn, the movie would fall apart instantly. Being precocious yet tough is not an easy thing to pull off, yet de Paauw brings tenderness and spunk to Bailey. Together, Batelaan and de Paauw share an easygoing chemistry that makes their quick affinity towards each other entirely believable.
However, everything that happens is just a preamble to the last 30 minutes. The final act of Molly is one dazzling fight sequence. The editing and camera work are jaw-droppingly awesome throughout. Molly is fighting a few crazed killers above the pit of death; the sport of choice for Deacon, wherein he pits two people against each other; and as she falls into it, the camera follows her than inverts itself. See, Molly doesn’t hit the floor; rather she suspended by cables and now upside. Now she has to fight supplicants- mutated humans who have superior strength and abilities versus the average person.
Bongers and Meuwse play the long game with Molly, as that opening is just a tease. The middle might seem unfocused, but its to lull you into a false sense of complacency. Once things let loose, in the third act, there is almost no reprieve from the magnificent martial arts and sword fighting on display. The movie is ultimately a visual triumph with heart-pounding action scenes.
Molly (2018) Directed by Colinda Bongers, Thijs Meuwse. Written by Thijs Meuwse. Starring Julia Batelaan, Emma de Paauw, Joost Bolt, Annelies Appelhof, Cyriel Guds.
9 Gummi Bears (out of 10)