Just in time for your (pre) weekend Euro TV viewing is the North American premiere of French supernatural drama Moloch.
It looks like just another day in the opening scenes of Moloch: A guy is jogging on the beach, another is going to his white-collar job, and a third is already earning his keep driving his daily bus route. Except it isn’t an ordinary day at all in this nameless, colorless seaside town in the north of France. Because within seconds of getting off the escalator at the Utopia Center business complex and taking out his earbuds, guy #2 spontaneously combusts. His screams fill the air as bystanders look on in horror before they scatter in fear. So begins the slow-burn (pun intended) action of Moloch.
As police investigator Tom (César Awards nominee Arnaud Valois, BPM (Beats Per Minute)) and his team are questioning witnesses and keeping the public away from the scene of the incident, Louise (César Awards nominee Marine Vacth, Young & Beautiful) is taking pictures of the ashes that remain where the man had burst into flames. Except she isn’t a cop. Neither is she a student, as she tells Tom. Rather, she’s an intern, a journalist in training, at the news magazine Le Telegraphe, and if she gets her way, this story is going to jump-start her career.
Elsewhere in the city, Gabriel (Cannes Film Festival winner Olivier Gourmet, Le fils), a psychiatrist, is conferring with a colleague before meeting the newly-admitted patient she’s referring to him: Jimmy (César Awards nominee Marc Zinga, Dheepan), the bus driver. Not long thereafter, Gabriel meets Louise, who claims to be yet another person she isn’t.
In relatively short order, we learn that Louise and Gabriel are deeply troubled people — she, due to the emotional neglect of her self-obsessed bourgeois parents, and he due to the death of his young son. Each of them has learned to cope in their respective ways, but none of the methods have proved successful enough to heal them of what plagues them, but rather have contributed to dysfunction in other areas of their lives.
Then another person spontaneously combusts, this time a woman, the mother of a young boy who witnesses the horrifying event. A few days later, a supermarket manager bursts into flames in the parking lot of his store — an event that is filmed and uploaded to the internet for all the world to see, including Karl (Magritte Awards nominee Jan Hammenecker, Witnesses), a journalist at Le Telegraphe, and François (César Awards Laurent Capelluto, Into the Night), the news magazine’s managing editor.
What on earth is happening? How did these people spontaneously combust? It appears that none of them committed suicide by self-immolation. So did they go up in flames from some weird supernatural phenomenon? Were they murdered by an invisible assailant? Crikey!
“With six you get eggroll,” but with three you get a campaign. Now that there are three of these fiery fatal incidents, Louise compiles the information she’s gathered, submits her piece to François, and gets herself a feature article in Le Telegraphe. It still doesn’t answer, though, the question of how the three victims came to such grisly ends.
A major clue comes after the magazine’s photographer captures something heretofore unseen: graffiti in the form of the letters MOLOCH — as in Moloch, the ancient god of sacrifice — on the walls of the supermarket and buildings adjacent to the scenes of the other human combustion incidents… of which there are more, including one witnessed by Gabriel and Jimmy just feet from Jimmy’s apartment.
As Jimmy’s reliance on his Christian faith and his understanding of Scripture become increasingly literal, Gabriel finds himself on a downward spiral, questioning his own sanity, while Louise, who thinks she knows Moloch’s real identity, puts herself in increasing amounts of danger — and ends up landing the scoop of a lifetime.
Meanwhile, acts of spontaneous human combustion continue… until Gabriel realizes the truth behind the fiery deaths.
Moloch had its world premiere as a competitor at the 2020 Canneseries TV Festival, where it was awarded best screenplay. After watching all six episodes, I see why it won. The layers of meaning and the intertwining threads — from the mysteries of the spontaneous human combustion and of what actually happened with Gabriel’s son, and the question of whether Louise will find the truth that she seeks — are what kept me watching.
(It certainly wasn’t the character of Louise, whom I disliked immensely. On one hand, she’s ambitious, determined, and fearless; cool. On the other hand, she’s cold, calculating, and seemingly devoid of any sense of conscience or decency or possessing of a moral compass; not so cool. She isn’t an altogether awful person, but the nasty parts of her badass-ness wore very thin very quickly. Kudos to the talented Marine Vacth for creating a character that I reacted to so intensely.)
Created by Arnaud Malherbe (who also directs) and Marion Festraëts, the team behind the hit French drama series Chefs, this limited series features Hélène de Saint-Père (Public Enemy), Soufiane Guerrab (Lupin), Loriane C Klupsch (Crossroads), Julie-Anne Roth (Candice Renoir), Babetida Sadjo (Into the Night), Carole Trevoux (L’Opéra), and Alice Verset (The Bouncer).
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