Fantastic Fest: 'Mother's Day' is unfocused, but with great performances
The original "Mother's Day" was made in 1980, one of the earliest Troma films, and I think it's a disgusting movie. I love exploitation, but having said that, I still have very strong feelings about what does or doesn't work, and what I will or won't tolerate in a film. The script by Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight (who has gone on to be an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter with nothing else that looks like "Mother's Day" on his resume) is about a group of women who go camping only to get attacked and abducted by some crazy brothers operating under order from their mom. It is, to say the least, a profoundly rapey movie, and it works hard to mix horror and humor and, to my mind, fails equally at both.
But there is a good idea in the way the dynamic works between mother and sons in the original film, and that one idea seems to be all the groundwork that was needed for Scott Milam and Darren Lynn Bousman to build what is essentially a whole new film, using the original "Mother's Day" as a mere jumping-off point. That's the smartest way to approach this material, and Scott Milam deserves credit for cracking the new way into the film. Now it's the story of Ike (Patrick Flueger), Addley (Warren Kole), and Johnny (Matt O'Leary), three brother who rob banks together. When a job goes wrong and Johnny gets shot, they head for their family home, hoping they can go to ground and hide out. What they don't realize is that their family home isn't theirs anymore. It's been sold to Daniel (Frankl Grillo) and Beth (Jaime King), who have been in the house for a few months now. They're having a party with friends when the boys break in, and the misunderstanding turns into an extended night of hell for everyone involved.
Especially when Mother (Rebecca De Mornay) finally shows up.
The absolute best thing about the film is De Mornay's performance. She is a fascinating study in need and control. She has a desperate need to have her children with her, under her control, and she has intentionally raised them cut off from the world in a way that keeps them dependent on her and that has made them retarded in terms of normal human behavior. Addley is the one who has no restrictions, no boundaries, and Ike is the one constantly pulling him back in, trying to keep him leashed. Johnny's bleeding out from the moment they arrive at the house, and one of the guests, George (Shawn Ashmore), is a doctor who is pressed into service to save Johnny's life. There's a daughter, too, named Lydia ("True Blood" star Deborah Ann Woll), who is a crazy timid little mouse of a girl, the most closely-bound of the kids to Mother. From the moment Mother shows up and starts issuing orders, it's a game.
The reason for the game is that Ike has been sending envelopes stuffed with money to the house for Mother for months, unaware that Mother had been forced out by foreclosure. She didn't even know there were envelopes, so when Ike asks her if she's been getting the money, they immediately assume that Beth and Daniel have been keeping the cash for themselves. Determined to get the truth out of them, Mother begins turning the screws.
My problems with the film mainly occur in this stretch of the movie. I think the set-up is strong, and I think the film achieves a certain tension right away. Maintaining that tension for two hours is a trick, though, and there comes a point where "Mother's Day" is just a long sadistic ride. If the payoff was huge and apocalyptic and amazing, it would be worth it, but the ending is just okay. It's admirably dark, but reaches for one final twist it doesn't need, and it's so over-the-top grim that it becomes a bit of an endurance test.
And, yes, I know that's sort of the point. And I think the cast all rises to the demands of the film, with Jaime King making a very strong showing as De Mornay's main opponent, and I like that the film eventually comes down to mother versus mother. Thankfully, the film doesn't resort to the base sexual violence that the first film did, even though it flirts with it at times, and it is far more character driven and honest than the original. "Mother's Day" absolutely exceeds its source material, and despite the feeling that this sort of material has been done, and perhaps done too much at this point, the film most succeeds, and should be able to reach more than just a horror audience thanks to the strong performances and Bousman's impressive sense of restraint with even the most horrible moments.
"Mother's Day" is still, as of this review, without a distributor.
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