Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"We spend a good deal of time getting to know them before the action starts, and these are the strongest scenes of the film." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

As many parents have learned over the past two years, being cooped up with a child is exceptionally stressful. We experience time differently when we’re younger so it’s understandable that they get frustrated, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle, especially when they struggle to regulate their emotions and lash out at those around them. Kate (Lora Burke) and Beth (Tessa Kozma) are not living under lockdown conditions but they might as well be. Placed under witness protection in the aftermath of a violent incident at their home, they have been advised not to go anywhere. As Kate struggles to write a book about what happened, which might at least reduce the financial strain they’re under, Beth stomps around their remote country home, focused only on her own distress.

Made just before the Covid-19 pandemic began in earnest, Craig David Wallace’s Motherly, which screened at Frightfest 2021, benefits considerably from the new familiarity of the scenario it depicts. Burke is solid as always and walks that line between protectiveness and irritability that every parent knows. We spend a good deal of time getting to know them before the action starts, and these are the strongest scenes of the film. There’s also a sub-plot around the affair that Kate has started with the officer in charge of looking after them (Colin Paradine), which is mutually exploitative and all kinds of complicated yet still affords some of the film’s most tender moments.

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Everything changes when, despite the said officer’s best efforts, somebody does manage to track them down. What follows is a mixture of dramatic exchange and violence in which we come to understand just how much Kate will endure for the sake of her child. Additionally, through a series of flashbacks, we come to learn more about the past incident which prompted all this.

Motherly is one of those films founded on a powerful central idea which the team making it also took to be original. It’s not, and it won’t take most horror fans long to figure it out. Structurally, it isn’t particularly well delivered. The performances are what make it work, with good chemistry between the leads and a solid supporting turn from the ever-reliable Kristen MacCulloch (almost unrecognisable here from her recent work in Psycho Goreman). Though it falls back on formula too often, it’s competently made and atmospheric. One is left with the sense that Wallace and co-writer Ian Malone just didn’t have the confidence to play to their strengths, instead gambling too much on attempts to shock. With a bit of luck, this will help to establish them so they don’t feel the need to go down that path again.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2021
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Motherly packshot
Kate and her daughter Beth live alone in an isolated farmhouse in the woods, but when Kate slowly begins to suspect that something sinister is happening, her motherly instincts are put to the test.

Director: Craig David Thomas

Writer: Ian Malone, Craig David Wallace

Starring: Lora Burke, Tessa Kozma, Kristen MacCulloch, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada

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