You have to give a lot of credit to the ambition of smaller production teams. Sometimes filmmakers have big ideas and creative visions that inevitably run aground against the harsh realities of production schedules and budgetary restrictions, and it’s up to those filmmakers to concede compromises that, if not exactly invisible, make for a visual or narrative enhancement that distracts from the shortfalls. Molly is a film that aspires to be a female-led successor to Mad Max, but like the original Mad Max, Molly is restricted by a transparently low budget and a lack of known on-camera talent. But Molly also manages to be stylish as hell with its limited resources, and the result is a film that could and should be a major career booster for directors Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese.
In a very near future post-apocalypse, Molly (Julia Batelaan) wanders the wastelands with only a pet falcon for company and the mysterious ability to create forcefields, which even she doesn’t quite understand. Meanwhile, a marauder settlement run by the unstable Deacon (Joost Bolt) captures wanderers to be drugged into a state of feral mindlessness and pitted against one another in fighting pits for the gambling amusement of the populace. When word of Molly’s superhuman ability reaches Deacon, he commits to capturing Molly as his champion, forcing Molly to fight for her life and that of a young girl (Emma de Paauw) she feels compelled to protect.
Much of the film is shot in wilderness locations or shoddily constructed metal interiors, but the obvious lack of production budget is compensated for by intense color saturation meant to reflect and enhance the orange and blue of Molly’s hair and outfit, respectively. This creates a surreal, otherworldly atmosphere that leaves the wastes recognizable as Earth, but definitely not Earth as we know it today, and it allows the stilted, unhinged dialogue of this future’s inhabitants to come across as almost natural. Batelaan in particular deserves credit for a largely wordless performance that is equal parts emotional and physically demanding, forcing her to fight in hand-to-hand combat that is exhausting for its attention to the limits of human endurance. It’s also worth noting that neither Molly nor the women warriors she faces are sexualized in any way, which should be a standard action movie norm but is all too rare to see effectively practiced.
The real hook for most audiences, though, is going to be how Molly’s action scenes are shot in extended, single takes with a free-roaming camera. It’s an ambitious strategy that pays off in terms of style and brutal intimacy, even if it seems to be largely employed to distract from deficiencies in the stage fighting. Though this isn’t a constant issue, since most of the action is quite well choreographed, sometimes punches clearly don’t connect despite the actors’ flailing reactions, and there are times when the camera operator and the actors are clearly at odds with one another, obscuring the action in a way that betrays inexperience with framing intricate multi-actor combat. Molly gets points for making the best with the talent and resources available to Bongers and Meuwese, but the execution still fails the ambition in noticeable, though not fatal, ways.
The film ends on a sequel hook that promises exploration of Molly’s origins, which is frustrating for a narrative that is otherwise so well-contained, and Molly really isn’t a film to be watching for the purposes of rich narrative. This is an ode to the power of shoestring-budget filmmaking, evidence of the ability that filmmakers with limited resources still have to create entertaining art. You won’t be blown away by Molly’s story, but you might just be impressed with what they were able to make of it.