"Fear is a powerful emotion," says a guidance counselor to troubled high schooler Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett). "It makes you see things that aren't there." It would take hallucinations of a powerful kind indeed to find anything worthwhile in "The Haunting of Molly Hartley," a dead-on-arrival thriller that resolutely fails to come to life.
Molly, just shy of her 18th birthday, has been hearing and seeing things ever since her mother, now institutionalized, tried to skewer her with a pair of sewing scissors. She fears the onset of some inherited madness, but the movie is too busy trying to gin up external threats to worry about what's inside her head.
First-time director Mickey Liddell has no idea how to build suspense through visual means, a handicap for which "Haunting" tries to compensate with absurdly overactive sound design. Every creaky hinge and snooze alarm is cranked up to maximum volume, a gimmick more likely to induce fear of hearing loss than demonic possession.
Apart from an evangelical classmate (Shanna Collins) who tries to save her soul and a cute rich boy (Chace Crawford) who might be giving her the eye, the kids at school aren't much help, nor is her ineffectual father (Jake Weber). But then, since all Molly ever does is whimper and scream, it's not clear why anyone would want to save her in the first place.
Adams is a freelance writer.