Review: Folk Horror and Family History Combine in Misty, Murky Debut Moloch

On the edge of a peat bog in the North of the Netherlands is an isolated town called Moloch, where a local stumbles upon the well-preserved body of a woman, dead for hundreds of years. The discovery triggers an investigation by a team of archeologists, led by Jonas (Alexandre Willaume), who doesn’t speak Dutch. He recruits a translator, a local woman named Betriek (Sallie Harmsen), whose family was recently attacked by a random stranger one night, a stranger who spent some time digging in the bog right around the time of the attack.

Before long, several more “bog bodies” are discovered (apparently a real phenomenon in the Netherlands), all female, all from different time periods in history, and all with their throats cut vertically, in a ritualistic manner. Moloch offers us the chilling proposition that something about this town, and perhaps even Betriek’s family, factors into this mystery of these dead women and why people in the area seem to know exactly where these bodies are buried in this vast bog.

With his feature debut, director Nico van den Brink (who co-wrote with Daan Bakker) creates a folk horror story with an emphasis on history and the mystery of this family and their connection to these bodies. There are a few scares along the way, but the filmmaker seems more concerned with the relationship between Betriek and Jonas, with an emphasis on the cinematic possibilities of the eerie, misty location. The supporting performances by Anneke Block and Fred Geossens as Betriek’s parents are quite memorable, as they are both clearly hiding secrets.

While Moloch isn’t particularly scary, it does feature one of the most stunning and memorable endings I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time. The film is beautifully shot and the makeup work on the bog bodies is superb, with an eye toward what such somewhat preserved figures would look like after hundreds of years. You can almost smell them, which is probably not a good thing. The movie is fairly low key, but it’s a solid debut for a first-time director, and I’m often a sucker for horror films that pull from local culture so effectively.

The film is now streaming on Shudder.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.