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Fantastic Fest Review: Mother’s Day

October 7, 2010
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Mother’s Day, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, IV), is loosely based on a horrific, true story that took place in Wichita, Kansas 10 years ago – as well as the 1980 Charles Kaufman film by the same name.  The setting changes from an ill-fated camping trip to a tale of home invasion in the remake – we meet the Koffin brothers when they return to their mother’s house after their attempt to rob a bank goes horribly wrong, leaving the youngest brother seriously injured from a gunshot wound.  Upon their arrival to their childhood home, they quickly discover that their mother is no longer living there (having lost her house to foreclosure) and end up crashing what will become The Worst Birthday Party Ever, which is being thrown by the new inhabitants, Beth and Daniel Sohapi.

The brothers hold the home-owner’s and their guests hostage – alternately beating them, threatening to rape them and robbing them of their money, belongings and dignity as they attempt to gain control of their situation.  It doesn’t take long for Mother (Rebecca De Mornay) and their little sister to arrive on the scene, at which point things swiftly make the shift from being merely terrifying to unfathomably shitty.  Initially Mother provides a calming air of reassurance to the terrorized group, chiding her sons for having bad manners and apologizing for their brutality.  When her sons inquire about the money which they had been sending to her – and it is revealed that she hasn’t received any during the months after her foreclosure – Mother’s tone quickly shifts from nurturing to measured hostility.   Believing that the Sohapi’s have been keeping and hiding  the money which the brothers had been sending – unaware that their mother no longer resided in her home - the Koffin family force their hostages to give up their credit and debit cards and take Beth (Jaime King) to the nearest ATM while Mother searches the her old house for the cash.

During their captivity, Mother and her sons psychologically and physically torture their victims and the body count quickly begins to add up.  From the onset the violence is sadistic and unrelenting – though over the top, much of it is played straight – which made De Mornay’s occasionally campy performance seem somewhat out of place.  Some of it might have been played as a wink and nod to it’s predecessor’s roots in Troma, but it failed to inject the levity it was striving for and was noticeably inconsistent with the bleak tone of the film.

In some ways, Mother’s Day feels like it was trying to do too much.  There are multiple plot twists  and reveals within the primary character’s storylines, some of which felt unnecessary or bogged the film down.  Add to that the fact that almost every character onscreen is a giant, unlikable asshole doesn’t help matters – in Mother’s Day people exist only to be made an example of and admittedly it is hard to feel much for them as they suffer through their ordeal.   The multiple torture scenes – all of which are horrific, don’t get me wrong – are in such abundance that they begin to lose their threatening punch, feeling more like an exhaustive essay in exploitation.  There are disturbing moments that are interesting – in particular a scene that transpires at the ATM comes to mind – which makes the shortcomings of this film all the more disappointing.

Mother’s Day is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.  Starring Jaime King, Rebecca De Mornay, Deborah Ann Woll,  and Shawn Ashmore. Rating 2/5

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