Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Moloch, on Sundance Now

It is the most important part of fire and brimstone. You can’t have apocalyptic wrath without the fire and a messianic lunatic appears to have the uncanny power to control it. The shadowy figure with the demonic moniker instills fear and paranoia throughout Paris in Arnaud Malherbe’s six-part Moloch, which premieres tomorrow on Sundance Now.

Louise Joli is an intern going nowhere at a French newsweekly, until she uncovers some fresh information on the unexplained combustion of a merger & acquisitions hotshot. It turns out he was a patient of Dr. Gabriel Matthieu, a psychiatrist who will also treat the traumatized young son of the second immolation victim. It turns out the doctor also has a horribly tragic backstory that must be relevant in some way.

Joli and Matthieu start off badly when she clumsily tries to trick him into revealing confidential patient information. However, as the killer continues to ignite new victims, the shrink and the aspiring journalist agree to work together. Most of the responsible French society is gripped with fear, but the anarchist protestor demographic starts to embrace mystery fire-starter dubbed “Moloch” as a cult hero. Tensions really explode when Moloch torches a thug who controlled a housing project the media refers to as a “sensitive neighborhood.”

could have leaned into its horror elements much more heavily, but Malherbe and co-writer Marion Fetsaets emphasize the investigational and psychological dynamics just as the fantastical premise. There are definitely eerie moments, but the genre ambiguity is one of the things that makes it so intriguing.

Veteran thesp Olivier Gourmet is also terrific as Matthieu. He fully fleshes out the character’s messiness, from his arrogance to his compassion and bereavement. We get how complicated Matthieu is from his first appearance and Gourmet continues to develop and deepen him over the course of the series. Marine Vacth is more straightforward and generally less successful humanizing the ambitious (initially quite cold-bloodedly so) Joli. However, Marc Zinga and young Alice Verset are creepy in strange and unexpected ways as Matthieu’s patients, who may or may not have some relation to the case.

The big revelation could very well be divisive among viewers and the resolution is arguably a bit too pedestrian compared to what comes before, but getting there is quite a ride. It has been a while since we have had a good “Firestarter” drama (maybe the “Fire” episode of
The X-Files), so it is cool to see Malherbe light things up. The way he portrays the backdrop of social unrest is also realistic and challenging, in ways the kneejerk might not appreciate. Recommended for fans of light-horror and fantastical mysteries, Moloch starts streaming tomorrow (6/10) on Sundance Now.