Moloch opens in 1991 as a young girl feeding a mouse is frightened by the sounds of what sounds like an extremely violent attack in the room above her. Soon blood is raining from between the floorboards and pouring down the walls onto the terrified girl.
Thirty years later, Betriek (Sallie Harmsen, Blade Runner 2049, The Postcard Killings) is now grown up and has a daughter of her own, Hanna (Noor van der Velden). It was Betriek’s grandmother that we heard being killed in the prologue. Her father Roelof (Fred Goessens, Commandos, Quality Time) was traumatized by her death and still drunkenly waits for the killer to return. Her mother (Anneke Blok, The Canal, Foodies) suffers from an unknown illness that subjects her to what seems to be seizures. Add in the death by heart attack of Hanna’s father and it’s easy to see why the locals consider the family cursed, something Betriek half believes herself.
It’s clear from the film’s foggy rural opening that Moloch is firmly in the folk horror genre. Director Nico van den Brink (Avondland) and co-writer Daan Bakker (Zenith: Supercharged Family, Quality Time) emphasize this, the family’s house is near a bog where a homeless man turns up dead under odd circumstances and a team of researchers is uncovering the bodies of bog people. When one of the team out of nowhere tries to kill Betriek and her family the idea of a curse seems to be confirmed.
Moloch takes its time building up the plot, slowly giving us bits of information while keeping the film’s characters in the forefront. That includes not just Betriek and her family but Jonas (Alexandre Willaume, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Tomb Raider) the leader of the researchers with whom Betriek becomes involved. Thankfully the script fleshes them out and makes them credible and realistic rather than the usual archetypes. This is especially true with the way the various family members relate to each other, if they hadn’t worked much of the film would have fallen flat.
The foggy peat bog and the rural area around its similarity to the English moors evoke memories of British Gothic films such as Hammer’s The Reptile. Although with its subplots about evil being dug up and the town’s pagan history films like The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man also come to mind. Interestingly enough, some of the scenes in the film’s final act, as well as the poster, seem influenced by the Indonesian folk horror film Satan’s Slaves.
By the time the last half hour comes around, Moloch has begun weaving its various plot threads into a net that entraps the characters as they try to find safety. It’s a tense final act, even if you have a good idea of just how things will play out. The final image however is a strong one, and one you probably won’t see coming.
Moloch relies more on atmosphere than effects with cinematographer Emo Weemhoff (Take Me Somewhere Nice, Stop Acting Now) making the most of the film’s fog-shrouded settings. The bog’s dark greens and muddy browns contribute to the film’s doom-laden feeling as well. The effects we do get are acceptable. When we finally see Moloch clearly it’s certainly creepy looking but also obviously CGI in most of its shots.
In the final analysis, Moloch is an interesting addition to the current folk horror cycle. It’s also one of the few Dutch genre films, and one of the even fewer Dick Maas (Amsterdamned, The Lift) wasn’t involved with.
Moloch will debut on Shudder in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on July 21st.