Mother's Day

Mother's Day

****1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Mother's Day marks a coming of age for Darren Lynn Bousman, director of some reprehensible Saw sequels and the admirable but not entirely successful Repo: The Genetic Opera. A loose remake of an obscure Troma flick, the plot follows a murderous family's clash with a group of young yuppies in a home the criminals thought they still owned. A hostage situation goes from dangerous to deadly with the arrival of the psycho clan's matriarch, whose conviction that her home's new owners have been receiving cash in her name leads to a stand-off that brings tensions to the surface on both sides.

Bousman's film is bloody and visceral, but wisely works mostly on the level of neo-noir, the family setting up a series of perverse challenges for the captive group as relationships are tested and long-kept secrets rear their ugly heads. The film gets going quickly and never lets up for a second, moving at such a lick that you're never given time to question the plot's twisted machinations. It's as sharp as an unexpected tack on your seat, Bousman expertly turning the screw on the audience as the violence escalates and the cops start to close in.

Copy picture

The way the director juggles multiple plot strands without ever letting any one fade into the background highlights his understanding of the genre and sheer confidence in his material. At many points, you'll not only be on tenterhooks as to what will happen next, you'll be racking your brain as to what might be happening to other characters elsewhere in the story. Events have the urgency of real-time, and as injuries inflicted by each side on the other give way to frantic in-fighting, the casualties mount up in unpredictable configurations of betrayal and manipulation: this is much more than a simple body-count horror.

What really marks the film out, though, is its ingenious exploitation of the audience's sympathies. We first meet our heroine in tears as she prepares to host a party, her emotional trauma distinguishing her from her off-puttingly affluent and self-absorbed friends. At the same time, their soon-to-be captors are shown panicking in the midst of their own predicament, where the preservation of a mortally wounded brother is paramount over any worries about the aborted robbery they have just fled. They're shown to have the strongest family dynamic in the film, their attachment to and love for each other making them impossible to dismiss as simple villainous thugs.

As their 'Momma', Rebecca De Mornay blazes back onto the screen with an intensity that even eclipses her unforgettable breakout turn in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Like her character in that film, she manages to be terrifying and tender, her own inner damage emanating from behind that mad-dog stare. Her initial appearance and unfettered concern for her children almost brings a tear to the eye, and then the next minute she is seizing control of the situation with a mixture of deceptive hospitality, double-edged wisecracks and menacing dominance. It is an awesome, career-resurrecting performance that Tarantino himself would be proud to have marshalled.

There are many almost equally impressive performances from some familiar faces, all the actors selling the situations as they grow more painfully intense. Warren Kole is especially impressive as the family's ticking time-bomb, his energetic crowd-pleasing efforts marking him out as one to watch. Jaime King - barely recognisable from her heyday in disposable teen comedies like Not Another Teen Movie - also brings some real emotional weight to her part, and crucially convinces in her eventual shift to ass-kicking retaliation.

The cast is peppered with pleasingly familiar genre veterans, their youth belying their experience and ability to transcend stereotypical characterisation: Frozen's Shawn Ashmore is all sweaty intensity as the medical man caught between the two factions; Sorority Row's Briana Evigan brings the necessary sass and vulnerability to her role as the promiscuous goth chick who catches the live-wire brother's eye; and previous bit-part player Frank Grillo is impressively nuanced in an unexpectedly complex role as King's husband.

All credit must go to Bousman though for managing to keep control of this increasingly convoluted thriller. His miniscule budget may be evident in some iffy lighting and the limited locations he has set for himself (the script could easily and effectively be staged as a play), but he delivers a relentlessly efficient thriller that manages to be funny and frightening from start to finish, with a set of memorable characters and powerful performances that do them the justice they deserve. Along with James Wan's reportedly excellent Insidious, it proves that the young film-makers behind the Saw films are a more talented bunch than that illustrious but dubious series may suggest. Mother's Day is a cracking film that deserves to find as wide an audience as possible.

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2011
Share this with others on...
Mother's Day packshot
Brothers fleeing a bank robbery invade a yuppie housewarming party at their mother's recently foreclosed home and sadistically attack the guests, but when mother arrives, events take a still nastier turn.
Amazon link

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Writer: Scott Milam

Starring: Deborah Ann Woll, Shawn Ashmore, Lisa Marcos, Rebecca DeMornay

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2011

Search database: