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Shudder Secrets: Moloch Explained

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Shudder’s latest original, Moloch, has quite an opening. A blond-haired girl cowers in a pantry, as blood seeps through the floorboards from above and oozes down the wall. The child clasps her hands over her ears, trying to drown out the screaming and menacing presence above. It’s unclear what occurred in the opening, until much, much later in the film.

Flash forward to the present, and that little girl is all grown up, raising a kid of her own. But when weird occurrences happen in the town and to her family, it eventually circles back to that opening and an ancient curse. Moloch is its own unique brand of folk horror with a Dutch twist. Though sometimes it gets a little lost under its own weight, it’s still an effective and atmospheric film.

Moloch’s Protagonist All Grown Up

Moloch’s opening occurs in 1991. After the film exits the past, we’re introduced to the grown-up Betriek (Sallie Harmsen), who lives with her parents, Elske (Anneke Blok), and Roelof (Fred Goessens). Her parents, at least, help her raise her little girl, Hanna (Noor van der Velden). Essentially, Hanna and her parents are all that Betriek has. The old hubs is MIA and barely mentioned.

It’s unclear, at first, what terrorized Betriek as a child. We’re never fully shown what occurred on the floor above the pantry, but it’s clear that it hangs over the entire family, Betriek especially. It’s a trauma that she can’t quite shake. The horrifying flashback occurs a few more times throughout the film, grounding the mother in a real purpose to protect Hanna at all costs.

This film doesn’t feature a huge cast of characters. Instead, it mostly focuses on the interior lives of these family members. There’s something that seems strange and unusual about them, something linked to the opening flashback. At times, it seems like Roelof and Elske are aware of more than they’re letting on. Things get really weird when a strange man invades the home. He nearly kills Elske, until Roelof comes to the rescue and knocks the man out with a tool. The movie grows more bizarre from there.

Moloch’s Eerie Atmosphere

Like the best folk horror, Moloch is the type of film that makes stellar use of its atmosphere. In particular, Betriek and her family live at the edge of a peat bog in the north of the Netherlands. It frequently feels like something sinister lies buried in that bog, something Roelof is aware of but won’t say. When an international survey team shows up and starts digging, the threats to the family only increase. Betriek also develops feelings for one of the surveyors, Jonas, (Alexandre Willaume), who’s at least one positive and normal thing in her life.

Eventually, the film gives some backstory about a witch and the god of child sacrifice, Moloch. Apparently, the ancient evil still exists, hence why it returns every 30 years or so, slicing the throats of women. This is why the international survey team discovers bodies of women under the dirt. If I can find one major fault with the film, it’s that it collapses a bit under its own mythology. The story of the witch is a bit muddled. It’s also unclear why Moloch and its followers would target Betriek’s family. Out of all the families in town, why hers? Is the curse herediary, going back generaions? The film doesn’t quite answer this. Even the exposition dump that comes in the form of a school play Hanna participates in leaves more questions than answers.

Courtesy of Shudder

Still, despite some of my qualms about the mythology and the choice of victims here, the threat to the family creates a type of dread that really ramps up by the last act. You get the feeling that the family will never be safe and anyone who gets in the way this siniser demonic presence won’t meet a happy fate. The last 20 minutes are especially harrowing when the scope of Moloch’s powers is fully unleashed upon the family.

Moloch’s Unnerving Ending

I have no doubt that Moloch’s ending may have a few people scratching their heads. However, it’s pretty clear what happens to Betriek by the last scene. Even before that, during her final interaction with Jonas, it’s evident that she’s well, not quite herself. To spoil the ending would spoil the entirity of a film that takes its time arriving to a haunting and well-crafted conclusion. This is an ending that I didn’t see coming, though I’m certain it won’t please everyone. Let’s just say that sometimes evil isn’t always defeated.

If you strip away some of the mythology, Moloch is essentially a film about a mother doing her best to protect her daughter and process her own trauma. Harmsen especially gives a strong performance here. She bestows Betriek with a type of strength and determination that allows the character to keep digging, thus unearthing her past. Overall, Moloch is a creepy film about an ancient and unrelenting evil. Something sinister lurks in that bog, leading to a spine-tingling ending. Remind me to never visit a small town in the Netherlands near a bog anytime soon. Who knows what lurks in the shadows!

Moloch arrives on Shudder on July 21. Keep up to date on all the streaming service’s latest content by following my weekly Shudder Secrets column.