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Movie Review: Ugly, Unpleasant MOTHER'S DAY Does Horror No Favors


The brutal, needlessly overlong horror-thriller Mother’s Day wastes no time in unleashing one injustice after another on its source material.  Director Charles Kaufman’s 1980 Troma-fied original is no masterpiece, but it’s a Troma film through and through, with a perverted sense of humor and patently unrealistic gore effects (often in the same scene!  Exhibit A: A hardware store clerk trimming his nails with hedge trimmers accidentally severs his own finger.  This is the stuff dreams are made of, people).  The remake is po’ faced and grim, and how do we know this?

Two things:

  • It’s directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, helmer of the similarly po’ faced and grim Saws 2, 3, and 4.
  • It has the nerve to add some topical flavor to the ultra-sanguine proceedings.  In the first Mother’s Day, our heroes suffered because two hillbilly savages wanted to impress their pain-and-torture-loving mother.  The remake pivots off a heist gone wrong, and the perpetrators (the Koffin brothers, played by Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, and Matt O’Leary) flee to their mother’s house for safety, unaware that…she lost it in a mortgage foreclosure!  As a society, we can no longer let evil exist; it has to spring from our collective ills.

Maybe if the new Mother’s Day shed some light on a particularly bleak facet of our culture, I’d be more forgiving of its humorlessness.  I’d even tolerate the picture if it dispensed with the social subtext and just concentrated on the standard elements that make a movie watchable (y’know, decent acting, competent direction, dialogue that has a passing resemblance to the way people actually talk).  But Mother’s Day doesn’t care about any of these things.  This is the kind of movie that has way more cast members than it can handle (it has seventeen principal cast members, which is – by my count – ten too many), and not because it wants to develop them all as people: Mother’s Day only wants to guarantee a hefty body count.

The film ambles (at a snail’s pace) along three major threads.  In the first, the Koffin brothers, after arriving at a house that is no longer theirs and taking the new owners and their guests hostage, call their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) to help them manage their captors in the house’s basement.  Mother shows up and wants to flee with her boys to Mexico, but they’ll need money, and we’re off on Thread #2: Flueger’s eldest son grabs a hostage (the lovely Jaime King, trying – and failing – to bring some warmth to an unsympathetic, inconsistently written shrew) and goes ATM-hopping for getaway cash.  The final thread finds Shawn Ashmore’s off-duty surgeon performing impromptu surgery on O’Leary’s gravely wounded brother, with the knowledge that if O’Leary dies, De Mornay and Kole will kill everyone in the house.

This last bit works the best.  No one would ever mistake it for “good,” but it works just the same.  Ashmore is surprisingly credible as a brave-but-way-out-of-his-depth doctor trying to outsmart De Mornay, and the two actors play off one another at a low boil (their relative quiet provides a minor respite from the frenzied overacting occurring everywhere else).  It isn’t Death and the Maiden (and the stuff with Ashmore trying to get under the skin of De Mornay’s beautiful-yet-sheltered daughter is aggressively stupid), but this section has stakes and measurable, maintained suspense – O’Leary acts as an-all-too-human hourglass, and the more blood he loses…

Everything else is terrible.  Flueger’s vehicular odyssey with King has zero internal logic (he kills two people in downtown Wichita and no one notices; she attacks him and escapes his clutches after serving her function as a money-procurer, and when he recaptures her, he doesn’t immediately kill her), but it’s Inception compared to the ugly happenings back in the house’s basement.  The film’s main conceit is that Mother is a master manipulator capable of grand psychological torment, and she unleashes this power on the hostages, causing them to turn against each other.  What that means is that Bousman gets to revel in his Saw-tested blood lust.  I’m talking hair plugs ripped out, scalding hot water poured directly into a person’s ear drums, a brawl between two captives where the weapons of choice are pool balls, two partial-decapitations by shotgun blast, a gory castration, and one lurid, deeply unpleasant (and exploitative) striptease at gunpoint, when Briana Evigan’s tattooed sexpot finds herself forced to…service O’Leary before he dies.  There’s no purpose here; it’s violence for violence’s sake.

The basement massacre has one bright spot: as King’s unfaithful husband, Frank Grillo takes an awful role and gives it dignity and power.  I’ve written before about Grillo’s ability to elevate stock material, but what he performs here is akin to full reconstructive surgery.  On the page, the character doesn’t work; Grillo makes you think otherwise.

Mother’s Day finally becomes unintentionally hilarious in its last ten minutes (De Mornay starts babbling about the mysteries of motherhood while watching King pee on a pregnancy test, and you wonder if De Mornay has finally given up, or if she still thinks the film will give her a Jackie Brown-esque career boost), but the unrestrained, unintelligent sadism that precede the funny are nigh-intolerable.  This movie is trash; it does the whole art form a disservice.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray/DVD combo pack looks good; the picture is clean and sharp, and the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is immersive without being overbearing.  For features, we get a commentary with Bousman and Ashmore (Bousman admits he doesn’t remember much about the film’s shooting, while Ashmore cracks unfunny jokes.  It’s an inauspicious track, to say the least).

Avoid Mother’s Day.  It’s not so-bad-it’s-good.  It’s just bad.  Read a book or fly a kite or just sit quietly; those activities won’t waste your life the way Mother’s Day does.

Mother’s Day streets on May 8th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.