Moloch (2022)

Directed by Nico van den Brink
Written by Daan Bakker and Nico van den Brink

Betriek lives at the edge of a peat bog in the North of the Netherlands. When she and her family are attacked by a random stranger one night, Betriek sets out to find an explanation. The more she digs, the more she becomes convinced that she is being hunted by something ancient. (IMDB)

Moloch opens on what appears to be the home invasion and murder of Betriek’s (Sallie Harmsen) grandmother when Betriek was a young girl. We then fast forward 30 years and Betriek still lives at the family home with her mother and father (who appear to be separated) and her young daughter, Hanna (Noor can der Velden).

As Betriek, a school teacher, helps prepare the kids for the annual festival to celebrate Feike, the focus of a local folk story, a team of archaeologists unearth a number of bodies, all women, who have had their throats cut vertically before being dumped in the peat bog. The bodies come from many different eras but all appear to have died in the same way.

After the body of a local man is found in a hand-dug hole in the peat and another home invasion sees Betriek’s mother visciously attacked by a seemingly possessed member of the archaeology team, Betriek does her own, metaphorical, digging into the Feike myth and the events of her past in the hope of understanding the present. As you can probably guess, she should have left well alone and just got the hell out of dodge, but that would have been less interesting and less disturbing.

The writing and direction of Moloch combine to great effect and deliver a foreboding and atmospheric development as the level of mystery and creepiness builds up around the main characters. Betriek’s mother has a mystery illness that seems difficult to diagnose, her father sits and watches the forest at night, setting traps and trip wires around the house. Strangers are seen in the woods outside the house at unsocial hours of the night and people talk of voices whispering out from the peat bog. This is folk-horror 101 but done by a team that truly understand the genre and who have delivered an effective and affective take on the familiar.

This is all very The Wicker Man (1973) with pagan festivals and hushed secrets in a small town leading to terrifying and upsetting endings. To say any more would spoil Moloch and, while I don’t think the reveals are particularly ‘twisty’, that doesn’t make them any less distressing or effective.

The film has a great cast and range of characters from the pragmatic archaeological professor to the quirkly local medium whose son is the man found dead in the peat bog. The writing and direction are wonderfully subtle, building the tension slowly and revealing the story bit by bit, leaving just enough breadcrumbs to ensure the observant among you will most likely guess what is going on before the reveal. And, if you do, don’t worry, in many ways knowing may make things more unsettling!

With 6.1 on IMDB, Moloch scores well for a horror, especially a “foreign” film which is mostly half English and half English-subtitled! I would push it a little higher than that as, although the themes and story are not necessarily original, this is a really well-made folk-horror that deserves to be seen. It almost feels like the sort of movie that would attract a Hollywood remake. Whether that is a good or a bad things is up to you but, at the very least, it would drive more people to see this version, and THAT can only be a good thing.

MOLOCH is a Shudder Original and streaming now on that platform

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