Based on a 1913 novel The Lodger is a story about a couple who take in a mysterious lodger and find out he might be a suspect in a series of Jack the Ripper-like murders. Alfred Hitchcock made a film version in 1927 -- and it should have ended there. But writer/director and all-around Hitchcock groupie David Ondaatje couldn’t help himself. This time it’s set in current West Hollywood in which an estranged couple (Hope Davis and Donal Logue) take in handsome tenant (Simon Baker). Meanwhile police detective Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina) tries to solve the case of a ruthless killer murdering prostitutes on the Sunset Strip Ripper style. Bunch of questions arise including the biggest one of all: Why bother with ANY of this hogwash? Even more baffling is why a fine group of actors would ever spark to such a dismal script. The usually wonderful Molina is adrift in a role that increasingly makes no sense as the film meanders along. As his rookie partner Shane West piles on cliché after cliché of every police procedural. Davis comes off looking even worse but really no one could have made this part work. Logue yells a lot. And Baker who currently has a hot TV series The Mentalist is probably wishing he had those powers to see what a turkey this was going to be before signing on. Ondaatje is a self-professed student of Hitchcock but he should have spent more time studying Hitch’s films rather than actually trying to copy one. Even though he tries to ape several signature shots of the famous director it’s all in vain. The Lodger is nonsensical amateurish and so brazenly predictable. Check out Hitchcock’s original instead.
As the film’s title indicates in no uncertain terms our heroine teenager Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett) is haunted by a tragic past that keeps coming back to torment her. Attempting to acclimate to a new school (Huntington Prep) Molly must deal with new classmates and also recurring bouts of nosebleeds and hallucinations -- particularly of her wild-eyed mother (Marin Hinkle) who had previously tried to stab her to death claiming that she was trying to save her from some sort of birthright. “The darkness is coming for you ” said Mom before plunging a pair of scissors into Molly’s chest. What’s really going on? Are Molly’s hallucinations of a psychotic or a supernatural nature? It takes a long while to get to that point by which time the answer should be obvious ... and long after audience interest has dwindled severely.
An interesting and attractive actress Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics) doesn’t necessarily project the vulnerability that her tormented character would call for but she seems capable of carrying a film. Unfortunately this one lets her down -- and the problem lies entirely in the story. Everyone else in the cast is saddled with one-dimensional characters: Jake Weber as Molly’s perennially-worried dad; Chace Crawford as the resident hunk; Shanna Collins as a born-again classmate; and Shannon Marie Woodward as a more rebellious classmate. Ron Canada as the school superintendent is on and off the screen so fast one wonders why he bothered at all. There is however a nice if smallish turn by Nina Siemaszko as the school’s guidance counselor who’s clearly got her eye on these goings-on. The Haunting of Molly Hartley marks the feature directorial debut of Mickey Liddell who previously toiled on the small screen as a producer of Everwood and Jack & Bobby two shows with prominent teenaged characters -- so he has experience in the field. There are some interesting camera angles and technically the film is competent enough but the story unravels at the midway point and Liddell is unable to stop the skid. By the film’s (foregone) conclusion it’s begun to telegraph its shocks and its plot twists with increasing regularity. It’s well-made but it’s also flat. There’s not a particularly high body count but there’s obvious editing in some of the more violent scenes -- clearly an attempt to earn the film a PG-13 rating which is a far friendlier proposition at the box-office where this should earn some decent coin from the horror faithful.