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Fantasia 2022: Moloch Unearths a Thrilling Bog Body Folktale

Image courtesy of Shudder

Nico van den Brink has been making waves lately. With the announcement that he’ll be directing a full feature based on his multi-award-winning short film Het Juk (The Burden) also came the news that Moloch would arrive on Shudder less than a week after appearing at Fantasia International Film Festival. That’s an attention-getter for a film reviewer. When a director is the center of attention months before their film has an audience, it goes on a short list of movies you know you want to see.  

The banner art for Shudder's Moloch shows ghosts surrounding a fog laden cabin in the woods where a red light eminates from
Image courtesy of Shudder

Shudder’s slate recently has been a bit of a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong. I love the streaming service. But many of the films I’ve been excited to see in the last months have landed in the gray area between good and bad, such as Offseason and The Long Night. As I started Moloch, I had to caution myself against getting my hopes up. The trailer had excited me for the film, and, like many of Shudder’s trailers, I was afraid I would end up wanting the pulse-pounding terror of that two-minute preview to translate exactly how I saw it. Rarely that’s ever the case, especially in the ever-expanding folk-horror selection on the premium subscription service. 

Opening strong, we watch a young girl feed a mouse in a pantry briefly before a violent altercation in the room above her creates the horrific scene of red rain in the locked room. Fast-forward thirty years, and we meet the once young girl, Betriek (Blade Runner 2049’s Sallie Harmsen), all grown up and now a single mother living in a swampy rural area in the North of the Netherlands with her mother and daughter in the same house where she experienced that terrifying murder. When a local man begins pathologically digging holes around their home, he unearths a centuries-old body, and people start showing up on the property late at night. Betriek speaks to the anthropologist in charge of the dig site, Jonas (Alexandre Willaume), asking him and his crew to respect their property. Shortly after Betriek and her family are attacked in their home, beginning an investigation into an old family curse.  

“Bog Bodies,” as they’re often known, have been found all over Europe for the last few centuries. Bogs are swampy but not connected to a body of water like swamps, gathering their water mainly from rainfall and, because there’s nowhere for the water to drain, they begin to elevate in the area that they’ve formed. Peat deposits build as stagnant water becomes acidic. Somehow, these conditions create nearly perfect conditions for body preservation, or at least on the outside. The bones typically dissolve.  

a preserved body lies in a block of dirt with a plastic sheet covering it in Moloch
Image courtesy of Shudder

In 1897, one of these mummified corpses was found in the Netherlands’ Stijfveen Bog when two workers watched it rise to the surface as they dredged the area. When asked why they’d run from the site, the men claimed to have seen the devil. Nearly a hundred years passed before anyone got any answers about the corpse, but the story gets grim as speculation led scholars to believe she may have been killed as a ritual sacrifice. Moloch takes its cue from the story of The Yde Girl, turning a true story into an infamous folktale.  

Moloch is heavy on atmosphere from the start, and much of that is thanks to the superb direction of van den Brink. The location here also has a natural charm, and, in one scene in particular, van den Brink showers it in the sunshine and the hearty wholesomeness of a mother playing with her daughter in the front yard. Later, we see it soaked in mist and filled with ghostly visitors. This duality helps the film take form by painting Betriek as more than just cursed and the home as more than just the dark house at the edge of a bog. In that, the house almost becomes a character itself as a place capable of retaining the light and dark in Betriek’s life. 

As the movie moves into investigation mode, Moloch becomes a bit on par with films like The Ring, as research into the bodies in the bog and Betriek’s family curse intersect. The film does many things right by showing the audience the why and the what through a children’s school play instead of just using a character to tell the story through campfire story dialogue, or reading a book and showing us the pages. Funny that it needs mentioning, but I feel like many indie horror films do this now with it rarely working. No matter how odd, the lore leads Jonas and Betriek to merge their efforts as the local legend of Feike, the rising number of exhumed bog bodies, and the attacks on Betriek’s family may all be related.  

A man screams while looking up in Moloch
Image courtesy of Shudder

Nico van den Brink’s script delivers a powerhouse story with resonating generational characters that are used to fantastic effect in culminating the film’s story. You become so ingrained in the film’s characters, their problems, traumas, and redemption stories, that when the movie pulls the rug out from beneath you, it shocks you. And the thing of it is, Moloch never lets up prior to that, either. Every moment of the film is paced and set meticulously for a specific reason. Moloch recalls the best part of The Wicker Man in the film’s ending by allowing the viewer to realize the precision in every scene that led our characters to the providence of the moment befalling them during the climax. 

On the technical end, the score by Ella van der Woude was excellent, and I will definitely be looking for a vinyl soundtrack for Moloch. Part warm, ambient, and ethereal and part dark with billowing tones, Woude adds considerably to van den Brink’s world-building. Also, the set design and art direction (Nina Spiering) were magnificent here as well. We often don’t thank these people enough, but without them, the movie wouldn’t look or feel the way it does, and their work in Moloch is absolutely incredible.

I’m glad my excitement for Moloch managed to stay intact, and I can thoroughly say this is a Shudder original worth catching. Moloch is captivating, shocking, and full of fun surprises. Nico van den Brink is someone to keep tabs on as well, and I’ll certainly be looking forward to The Burden when it releases in the future. 

Moloch screened as a part of The Fantasia International Film Festival on July 18. It releases on Shudder on July 21.  

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Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all things horror.

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