July 28, 2022 Moloch (Movie Review)
Debuting on Shudder on July 21, 2022, Moloch is the latest in a string of European folk Horror films that have terrorized audiences over the past several years.
The feature-length debut of Dutch Director Nico van den Brink, Moloch centers around a woman named Betriek (Sallie Harmsen: De geheimen van Barslet 2011, Blade Runner 2049) and her young daughter Hanna (Noor van der Velden). When she was her daughter’s age, Betriek, in what is an excellent opening scene, was present when her grandmother was horrifically killed by an unknown force. Thirty years later, Betriek and Hanna live with her mother, Elske (Anneke Blok: Tiramisu 2008, The Fury 2016), and Uncle, in a house near a massive peat bog in northern Netherlands. After a local eccentric digs up a remarkably well-preserved body from the bog, things start to get strange. The body gets the attention of archeologists, whose workers seem to fall victim to a sort of possession. Besides the suspicious deaths that occur almost immediately, Hanna and her family start experiencing targeted stalking and attacks.
It is not long before Betriek feels there is some sort of curse on her family, and she is still struggling to process her trauma from her childhood. This is a persistent theme throughout the story; Moloch is a gloomy film, and not just in terms of set design and lighting, but also the family’s generational trauma. Harmsen’s performance is very good in conveying a woman who is never quite comfortable. She has a good relationship with her family, but something about Betriek is always sad. You can see it in her eyes and in her detached manner of personal relations with everyone but her daughter.
Turns out there is a local legend of a girl who was among many sacrificed to a force or spirit called Moloch, and yes, there are still people who worship Moloch today. One of the strengths of this film is that it does not answer every question completely. There are answers, and there are actions on the part of the cult and Moloch, but there is also an element of uncertainty throughout which blends well with Betriek’s struggle as a mother. She, like all parents, is highly concerned with her child’s safety, but Betriek is especially worrisome due to her past experience. This is central to her character arc and influences her decisions to the very end.
The aforementioned tropes are present but not the focus. Van den Brink, who co-wrote the screenplay, instead leans much more into the suspense than the horror, which was the right choice. While Moloch is not a scary film per se, it does simmer with suspense and is akin to old Hitchcock stories in that regard. We know something is up, but not exactly what. It permeates almost every scene after a certain point, and it’s interesting to see how Betriek and the different members of her family deal with it. The supporting characters are all likable and put in good performances, and the love interest relationship between Betriek and archeologist Jonas (Alexandr Willaume: The Wheel of Time 2021, 1899 2022) feels genuine and they never sound like they are reading lines when in a scene together. Chemistry like that is crucial and not always achieved.
If there are criticisms for Moloch, it would be that for veteran Horror fans this will not satisfy their fear-seeking needs, nor will it satisfy gore hounds looking for a spatterfest, though it does deliver blood when it needs to. The film runs at about 100 minutes and perhaps could have been trimmed a bit, as the third act does drag just a bit, but it does come through at the end. However, these are minor criticisms for a solid film that does much more right than wrong.
Overall, Moloch is well-written and acted, slow-burn folk Horror story that is heavy on the dread in lieu of jump scares and blood-curdling kills. As with most of them, there are several boxes to check – rural setting, ancient legends, surreptitious rituals away from the eyes of outsiders; what makes a film like this stand out among its contemporaries is its ability to sustain a level of suspense that keeps the viewers interest, and characters whose struggle feels relatable. Moloch does a good job in both of these endeavors, and ends up being among the better entries into the genre. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Moloch 4 out of 5 stars.