Director: Nico van den Brink
Cast: Sallie Harmsen, Alexandre Willaume, Anneke Blok, Fred Goessens, Markoesa Hamer, Ad van Kempen
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Sexual Scene)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 18 August 2022
Synopsis: Betriek lives a quiet life with her family at the edge of a peat bog. When one night they are attacked by a random stranger, Betriek sets out to find an explanation. But the deeper she digs, the more she becomes convinced something ancient is after her and her loved ones.
As far as folk horrors go, ‘Moloch’ is a mixed bag.
On one hand, director and co-writer Nico van den Brink builds an absorbing sense of place with the use of fog and shadows, setting up the quaint Dutch village where ancient corpses have been recently uncovered, disrupting the idyllic life that young single mother Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) has been enjoying with her parents in their family house on the edge of a bog.
On the other, Brink, who co-wrote the movie with Daan Bakker, does his movie no favours by keeping the narrative fairly straightforward, even as it tries to spin an intriguing legend about a young servant girl and her deal with the titular heathen god centuries ago that still curses the land till present day. We won’t give any more away, but suffice to say that its resolution will ring familiar to anybody who’s ever seen a horror film based on a folk tale.
That it is Brink’s feature filmmaking debut doesn’t go far enough to compensate for the shortcomings in his plotting, in particular how he fails to fully invest in the horror elements of the movie. Brink tries too hard to fashion a character-driven piece by outlining Betriek’s issues with her family and budding relationship with archaeological researcher Jonas (Alexandre Willaume), but cannot quite establish sufficient emotional heft for us to relate to Betriek’s circumstances. Too little time is spent developing the imminent threat which Betriek faces, especially how her family is inexorably linked to the fate of the young servant girl.
It doesn’t help that unnecessary time is spent on the subplot concerning the team of researchers which Jonas leads, who have travelled to the village in order to study the corpses that have been uncovered in a surprisingly well-preserved state. As much as some of them will be harbinger of the fate that Betriek and her family will have to confront, their presence is more distracting than fulfilling, and could otherwise be omitted for a stronger and more compelling build-up to the ghoulish climax.
Because of these flaws, ‘Moloch’ ends up losing your interest by the halfway mark, such that the second half is a trudge towards a predictable finish. If there is one thing in its favour, it is its lead star Harmsen, who embodies not just the trauma of a woman haunted by her childhood past but also the resourceful and steel of a survivor. Some may recognise her as the female replicant from ‘Blade Runner 2049’, but you can mark our words that Hollywood will come knocking soon to offer something much bigger for this stunning Dutch actress.
At best therefore, ‘Moloch’ is a competent genre effort that you wouldn’t mind watching from the comfort of your living room; that probably explains why it was released in the United States via the VOD streaming service Shudder. So unless you simply want to kill time in a darkened cinema hall, we’d recommend you save yourself from being ultimately underwhelmed.
(Neither a fully-cooked horror nor a compelling character-driven drama, 'Moloch' is at best a competent genre effort with evocative atmosphere)
Review by Gabriel Chong