MOLOCH Review – Nico van den Brink Intimately Weaves Together Fear and Dutch Folklore
Sarah Kirk calls Moloch psychologically disturbing and an exposition of Dutch culture, filled with death and tragedy.
In Moloch, family bloodlines are everything. The Shudder Original, directed by Nico van den Brink, depicts ancestral trauma resulting from an ancient curse. Pain and terror are ingrained into the family’s women. It’s a true example of Dutch occult folk horror, containing plenty of jump-scares, blood, and mythological monsters—elements that perfectly blend the story. Moloch is easily compared with Hereditary (2018) as they both deal with family curses, generational wounds, and an unhinged narrative that becomes increasingly unbearable. Van Den Brink depicts fear intimately—audiences will cringe, hide under a blanket, and have to wait for the atrocities to end.
Opening with crimson block letters that set an eerie and perilous tone, Moloch positions us so that we are aware of what to expect. We are captivated by the first few scenes as young Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) hides in a closet as thumping and screaming echo outside, and blood oozes through the floor. On the outskirts of a peat bog, Betriek, now older, lives in her family's secluded house. At the same time, an archaeological crew unearths an ancient, old woman, and several other bodies that have all had their throats vertically slit. The discovery is the catalyst for bad things to come.
One evening, after witnessing an unidentified individual skulking in their yard, the figure attacks, seemingly without cause or justification. Betriek commits to uncovering the reasons behind the attack and the strange occurrences that have plagued them for generations. Experiencing paranormal events and flashbacks to her childhood trauma, Betriek is concerned that an old force is pursuing her, believing that the following generation of women, including her daughter, is in danger. Moloch, the god of child sacrifice, is coming.
The ancient pagan god, Moloch, is used as a symbolic narrative in the film. The legend is something the locals celebrate and annually commemorate: their culture is important to remember and recognize. However, the story is also employed to keep children from the bog, fearing that a dark entity will whisper to them and make them do unspeakable things. The cautionary folktale is true and plays on the fears of the Dutch people. In the film, the people hear whispers, come under a spell, and act demented. Moloch uses Dutch folklore with this narrative as the driving factor, including disturbing imagery and ritualistic practices that follow the folk horror traditions.
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Director of Photography Emo Weemhoff’s purposeful cinematography invariably focuses on the character, scene, or object that is most relevant, with several close-up shots of Betriek’s reactions and the fossilized women. Weemhoff’s camera movements are versatile, engaging the audience and adding to the incertitude by utilizing slow pans. For example, the camera moves excruciatingly around corners and pans onto a wall of pictures of the generations of Betriek’s family, signifying that this might be important.
A memorable scene is Betreik’s traumatic reawakening. She remembers her younger self, hiding in the closet with blood dribbling everywhere. The shot is distorted and upside down in the scene, immersed in red light, representing an unlocked memory of trauma buried in her subconscious. The eerie atmosphere is captured with desolate shots of a foggy and dismal landscape. The house is secluded, and there is nothing for miles except a hauntingly picturesque bog with dead trees rising out of the murky waters.
Moloch is about a generational curse wreaking havoc on a family. The damage runs so deep that trauma and pain physically manifest. Betriek’s mother has seizures, fainting spells, and exhibits odd behavior, creating tense familial interactions. The paralleled structure of the film makes for a cohesive understanding. There are distinct echoes of Betriek as a young child and her memories compared to her daughter. The unity of the story’s themes is appealing and easy to follow, allowing the audience to easily comprehend how and why the cycle of the curse repeats.
Van Den Brink maintains an uneasy and haunting tone throughout the film. We feel on edge the entire time, with the story's slow burn holding us anxiously at bay. The psychological thriller is a spectacle of extremely disturbing trauma, a cycle that never seems to end. Its final act is shocking, haunting, and sickening, but overall, Moloch is engrossing because of its story, combined with tenacious cinematography and captivating themes.
Moloch is streaming exclusively on Shudder.