Shudder announce the acquisition of it’s exclusive release, director Nico van den Brink’s directorial debut Moloch ahead of its premiere as an official selection of the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022. Moloch begins in1991 when a small girl hides in a pantry feeding a mouse as a violent event in the house above her rains blood upon her head. Thirty-years later, we are introduced to a small town at the edge of a peat bog, where a mystery involving a now grown Betriek (Sally Harmsen, Bladerunner 2049) and her family begins with a strange local man digging up from the bog an ancient female body with her throat slit. A team of archeologists is called in to examine the excavation site and uncovers more bodies in the bog – all women.
The family relationship between Betriek and her parents is strained. Betriek describes her mother Elske as an “emotionally unavailable” women who refuses to seek psychological treatment for an early childhood trauma, and refuses to respect Betriek’s wishes for her not to drive Hanna, Betriek’s 8-year-old daughter, although Elske suffers from unexplained and unpredictable seizures. As the local guide, Betriek becomes involved with the head of the excavation team Jonas, (Alexandre Willaume) and confesses to him that her family is cursed. The situation escalates when a member of the excavation team breaks into Betriek’s family home and tries to kill the family.
The folk horror comes in the form of a performance the local children put on for the town that tells the legend of the Feike, a servant to the rich, impregnated by her master and accused of sorcery by his wife, who makes a deal with Moloch, the God of child sacrifice, which exacts a huge price for vengeance. Feike is hailed as a hero by the townspeople, as her sacrifice heralded in a period of prosperity that continues to this very day, and she is celebrated with a parade and party in her honor (of which the performance is the opening ceremony).
The folk horror of Moloch meets the mystery of the bog
Moloch’s exposition is a bit long with unsettling events and images that increase in frequency and intensity as the plot moves along. A lot of attention is given to the development of the characters (who are as quirky as you’d expect “bog folk” to be) and their conflicted relationships – as any cursed family should have. The bog setting is an unfamiliar one to city dwellers like me with mysterious mists, isolated woods, long empty roads, and freezing rains, and becomes a character unto itself. The modern synth soundtrack is an interesting juxtaposition to the ancient bog setting, and increases the eerie atmosphere of the film.
As the the local legend of Feike, the rising number of exhumed bog bodies, and the attacks on Betriek’s family lead her and Jonas to believe it may all be related, events begin to spiral out of control. Will they be able to solve the mystery before the strange setting, folklore, and family relationships finally intersect in a disastrous climax?
Moloch climaxes a bit too abruptly
I do wish that they had spent a bit more time on the climax and really expanded on the answer to the riddle posed as soon as the first bog body appeared. I did feel a little cheated having spent so much time following the mystery to have it all unveiled so abruptly. Even so, the end is worth the means – and the far-reaching consequences of the climactic events are devastating.
The reviews of Moloch range from accolades by critics to the use of the words “lackluster,” “underwhelming,” and “slow” by viewers. Sometimes if feels to me that what I am looking for in a horror movie differs from the average commercial horror fan’s expectations. At this point in my horror viewing fandom, not much actually scares me. I look for a good story, good characters, and a somewhat original plot – and I don’t want to be bored. For me, Moloch hit all of those notes. It is a bit of a slow burn, but being a mystery, it doesn’t feel like it plods along so much as slowly unveils clues.
Moloch, a Shudder exclusive in English and Dutch with subtitles, runs an hour and thirty minutes, premiered on the streaming service July 21st .
What makes a horror movie worthwhile in your opinion? Let me know in the comments!