Capone has seen Darren Lynn Bousman's dark, disturbing take on MOTHER'S DAY!!!
Published at: May 19, 2010, 10:45 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman knows the benefits and perils of formula horror filmmaking, having directed the second, third, and fourth SAW movies. The benefit of such predictable movies is that once a franchise is firmly established, even the worst of the installments tend to make money (I'm not calling Bousman's SAW films the worst; in fact, I remember having a twisted fondness for SAW II, in particular). Escaping his shackles of making movies where character development and real emotion gave way to senselessly elaborate killings and victims we could not have cared two shits about, Bousman took a brave and unusual turn into a territory called REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, a bloody, gore-laden musical that remains as divisive today as it was risky to make in the first place. I happened to love REPO!, and audiences keep turning out for midnight screenings around the nation. I recently found out that the film is actually expanding into the most theaters it has ever played in during the next few months of 2010. The damn thing is actually getting more popular as a theatrical event, despite it having been released on DVD more than a year ago.
When I first heard that Bousman was tackling a loose remake of the early Troma work from director Charles Kaufman, MOTHER'S DAY, I thought for sure that the kitschy elements of REPO! (or from the original MOTHER'S DAY) would be the order of the day for this effort. I'll be the first to admit I was waaaaay off base with that prediction. Thanks to a powerful script from Scott Milam, this MOTHER'S DAY is a relentless feat that forced me to reconsider what American horror is capable of, much in the same way some of the great recent scare films from Europe have impressed me a great deal. The film bears no resemblance (thankfully so) to the lame, disconnected horror of late, such as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or the last couple of SAW films. That way of handling horror is effectively dead to me; at best, it's a step back from far more interesting works like the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE CRAZIES, or DAYBREAKERS, all of which actually spent two or three minutes getting to know its characters before putting them through hell. Here's a free piece of advice to all future horror filmmakers: if the audience actually cares about your characters, the impact when they die will be so much deeper. That's what you want and what you should aspire to.
Of course, one way to make us care more about characters is to hire solid actors to portray them, and it's refreshing to see a film that isn't as concerned about packing its cast with a bunch of pretty boys and girls, and instead gives us a selection of solid performers who actually have the chops to convey a range of emotion. I'm in no way implying that Bousman has loaded his film with freaks--there are actually quite a few attractive people in this movie--but their looks are downplayed quite a bit. This is a film I believe is supposed to take place in Nebraska, so it would be ridiculous for these folks to dress like CW stars or trendy party goers in New York or L.A. Since the film opens with a low-key party in the new home of Daniel and Beth Sohapi (Frank Grillo and Jaime King), we know right away these are ordinary people playing dress up for this particular gathering; they probably don't dress this well every day.
The film abruptly cuts to a truck racing through a corn field. Inside are the Koffin brothers, including youngest brother Johnny (Matt O'Leary, who played "The Brain" in BRICK) who is shot and likely about to die from his injuries. Oldest brother Ike (a truly terrifying Patrick Flueger) and middle child and convicted rapist Addley (Warren Kole) round out the vehicle inhabitants, yelling at Johnny to "man up" and "stop being such a pussy." Lot of love in that truck. They manage to contact their sister Lydia ("True Blood's" Deborah Ann Woll) to grab their mother and meet them at their home. What the brothers don't realize is that dear mother lost the home in question in a foreclosure, and the Sohapi couple snatched it up before it went on the market (Beth is a real estate agent).
When the brothers arrive at the house, they break in and immediately realize everything is wrong. Just as they're about the leave, they hear noises from the party in the basement. Still not clear on what is happening, the brothers take everyone in the house prisoner until their mother arrives. A still incredibly gorgeous and engaging Rebecca De Mornay plays Mother, who at first seems to be a woman of reason and sense. But it doesn't take long for her warped sense of righteousness, strict rules, and punishment rise to the surface and turn this bad situation into absolute hell. In the background of MOTHER'S DAY is the impending threat of tornados, but for some reason they don't carry nearly the threat level that De Mornay musters. There are the tiniest hints of some campiness to her performance, but then she pulls back and grounds herself one of the most fully realized screen villains I've seen in ages.
MOTHER'S DAY splits into two films at one point as Beth and Ike leave the house with the guests' ATM cards and passwords to clean out bank accounts, leaving a basement full of terrified people to cope with the remaining Koffins. Just to be completely clear, Bousman doesn't exactly hold back on the blood, and he makes it clear early on that no one's life is sacred on either side of this struggle. The family has a sadistic streak that manifests itself in some gut-wrenching "punishments" for guests who get out of line by trying to escape. My toes are curling just remembering some of what Mother dreams up.
The separate sequences with Ike and Beth are also really strong as King maintains a look in her eye that is a combination of good old-fashioned fear and a cunning that lets us know she will make every and any move to escape Flueger's dumb but not stupid Ike. It's a great cat-and-mouse game that leads to some seriously nasty places, especially one involving two party girls that stumble across them at an ATM machine and pay an awful price. After a small but pivotal role in last year's BROTHERS (what a coincidence), Flueger is a real find and his ability to project pent-up rage is almost too good. King borrows a bit from her own excellent work in MY BLOODY VALENTINE, which went far beyond simply being a screaming victim. In MOTHER'S DAY she's an aggressive force with many secrets hidden away in her head that could substantially throw the balance off between her and her captors. This is by far King's best work to date.
A particular favorite performance of mine comes from Shawn Ashmore as George, a doctor at the party who is charged by the family with keeping Johnny alive, which means he actually has some power over them. Pointing a gun at him doesn't have much of an impact since killing him mean Johnny's death. His manipulating of Lydia provides some fascinating tension in a couple of key moments. Perhaps the most daring aspect to MOTHER'S DAY is that there are moments when Bousman allows us to feel a little sorry for the siblings for reasons I won't completely go into. They were home schooled (poorly, as you may have guessed) and meant to fear the outside world in an effort by Mother to keep them close and devoted to her. But the instability goes far deeper than that.
It turns out that the brothers, not knowing their mother had moved (into a mobile home, no less), had been sending envelopes of cash to her old address, which leads Mother to believe that Beth or Daniel or both have a healthy stash of cash hidden away somewhere. Both convincingly deny this, but that doesn't stop Mother from torturing Daniel just to be sure. Brutal. But Mother can also be compassionate, such as the scene where she offers her dying youngest son the chance to lose his virginity to one of the hostages before he croaks. Briana Evigan is the unfortunate lady chosen for this horrible task, and she plays the scene perfectly, but that doesn't stop it from being the film's one true off-putting moment.
But how rare is it that any horror offerings gives us the chance to see things through the eyes and thought processes of the villains. Bausman makes it absolutely clear that these characters were not born evil. They were raised that way, and in their collective minds, what they are doing is absolutely justified. He's not trying to get us to see them as heroes or victims, but the idea of opening our minds to the possibility is something I rarely see in a movie like this. I'd even go so far as to say that MOTHER'S DAY isn't a horror film; it's an intense, horrific drama. And while popular home invastion films like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or THE STRANGERS, which cover some of the same ground as this movie, are set deep in the isolated woods, MOTHER'S DAY happens in a nice, normal neighborhood. This house is surrounded by other homes, but because most of the action in the film takes place inside, the neighbors would have no way of knowing what was transpiring.
The only thing that MOTHER'S DAY and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET have in common (and the only thing they should have in common) is that both are clearly directed by talented, skilled filmmakers with a clear vision in mind for their work. But what makes MOTEHR'S DAY infinitely better as a complete, thought-provoking work is a clear sense of emotional resonance. When a character cries from pure anxiety overload, I'm right there with them. There are as many heated battles among the captives about whether they should stay put or attempt an escape rather than continue to be victims of brutal acts inflicted on them by the Koffins. Bousman wants us just as nervous about what these prisoners are going to do as he wants to make us quake at the possibilities that mother Mother and her kids can come up with. Mission: accomplished.
I don't know whether MOTHER'S DAY has a distributor yet or not, but I can only imagine that whoever might put this out would be tempted to simplify the emotions, to make the family more villainy and the victims more sympathetic. That would be a colossal blunder. This film's power stems from its grey areas and moral complexity. I see more horror films in a given year than I can handle. But the turn off in my head isn't from torture or gore or exploitation; the turn off comes when it's disgustingly clear that movies have been sliced and diced to fit a formula (a proven one, yes, but one that is fading fast with audiences). MOTHER'S DAY is not cookie-cutter horror filmmaking. There is genuine thinking going on here. Even the ending is unusual and will leave you with a hollow, twisted feeling in your gut. I fucking love that sensation, and I fucking love this movie. I would proudly fill a theater with Chicago-area readers to watch this, because they would appreciate and applaud its power and unique qualities. And anyone that feels the need to mess with the cut of the film I saw needs to call me and explain why.
I don't know when this film is opening, but keep it in the back of your brain until it does. This is one of the good ones of this genre and shouldn't be missed. It should also be protected like an endangered species.
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