Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. MOTHER’S DAY is a very unpleasant movie. I tend not to enjoy this particular sub-genre of horror movies that consist of films like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or FUNNY GAMES. I completely respect and understand their importance, but these are not the types of movies I break out on a Friday night when I have friends over for some beers and fun.
That said, MOTHER’S DAY is by far the best of this sub-genre of horror movies. It’s by far the best film Darren Lynn Bousman has directed. And it’s also the best ensemble cast you’re probably ever going to see in a genre film of this sort. And while that praise makes it sound like the film is flawless, it’s definitely not perfect. It does however have so much working for it that it warrants a thorough look. So let’s tackle each of those things one at a time.
What’s it about? MOTHER’S DAY is a very loose remake of the Charlie Kaufman directed pic co-written with Warren Leight, which was produced by his brother Lloyd Kaufman (president of Troma Entertainment). With the exception of some of the character’s names, the update (written by Scott Milam) bares very little resemblance to its 1980 counterpart. Instead, a group of friends are having a pre-Christmas celebration at the home of Daniel and Beth Sohapi (Frank Grillo and Jaime King) when the Koffin brothers come bursting into what used to be their former childhood home with their injured brother in tow from a bank robbery gone wrong and completely unaware that their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) has since moved out. What was supposed to be a “laying low” scenario turns into a home invasion hostage situation, until mother and the Koffin brother’s sister (played by TRUE BLOOD’s Deborah Ann Woll) show up to try to diffuse the situation. Things start to go haywire when it’s evident that someone’s stolen the money the brothers have been sending to the house for “mother” over the course of the last few months and the hostage situation continues to escalate.
Here’s what works about the movie. First and foremost, the performances. And I credit a lot of this to Bousman’s restraint as a director. Rather then focus on the elaborate transitional shots from his SAW entries or even the colorful stylized comic book look he illustrated so beautifully in REPO, MOTHER’S DAY is all about capturing solid, honest performances out of every single one of these actors and every one of them absolutely delivers.
Obviously, you’ve got Rebecca De Mornay – we’d seen what she was capable of in terms of playing dark characters with THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE. But in comparison, that barely scratched the surface to what she does with “mother” here. De Mornay fully realizes the complexities of this “Mother” and is by far at her most calculated, manipulative and psychotic here. From her subtle, gentle nature comforting the hostages as she bakes a cake to her sadistically forcing Briana Evigan’s character to “de-virginize” her dying teenage son, the entire performance is covered in all sick shades of gray. And the most disarming aspect is that De Mornay is still to this day absolutely gorgeous. It’s the Norman Bates complex. How can someone this beautiful be capable of such evil, nasty deeds?
Every actor has at least one moment in the film where they shine and leave an indelible sympathetic impression on the audience. From Briana Evigan (reteaming with Bousman after appearing in his episode of FEAR ITSELF) at first playing up her sex appeal, and then boldly showing a vulnerability that we haven’t seen from her in any previous film, to SAW alumni Tony Nappo (the lucky S.O.B. gets to be Briana Evigan’s fiancé in this) falling apart by not being able to stand up for his girlfriend and Lyriq Bent, proving between this and SAW IV that he’s totally capable of being a leading man. However, the true showcase of this collected group of talent is Shawn Ashmore, who plays George Barnum, a doctor attempting to save the life of the mortally wounded Johnny Koffin, while trying also to sway the damaged daughter of the Koffin brood Lydia (Woll) to see the sad truth behind her family. Between his award-worthy performance in Adam Green’s FROZEN to the solid work he displays with George here, Ashmore proves he’s easily one of the finest young actors working in Hollywood right now.
The one thing I had a problem grappling with when it came to this movie is the overall balancing of its moral code. Now, this is a personal opinion, but it’s something that bothered me for days after seeing the movie and prevented me from being able to form a clear cut opinion of it. What I mean by that is this; for movies that are this deeply in the realm of unpleasant, I need there to be a balance between the terrible things depicted onscreen and the small glimmers of hope for the characters we so desperately want to see survive. The level of psychological torture inflicted on these hostages by the brothers is far more brutal than anything Bousman’s ever depicted in a SAW trap and they constantly border on being a little too much. I just kept thinking ‘please, do something, anything, just fight back!’ We do eventually get those moments, those glimmers of hope, and I think by the end the film, he does get that balance right, but it’s tough to spend this much time with bad people and not boil up under the surface that you’d like to see a little old fashioned vengeance carried out. Look, this is a bordering-on-2-hours movie. It’s a lot to take in and I could only imagine how difficult it was to get it to this point considering the original director’s cut clocked in at 4 and a half hours. Just as I started to think I couldn’t take anymore of the emotional brutality, it balanced itself out. (And fans of Bousman’s SAW films, don’t worry. When it’s gory, it’s as graphic as anything we’ve seen in those other movies.)
And I’ll disagree with Bousman on one thing – in our interview, his intent was to blur the line between defining the bad guys as villains and the good guys (hostages) as heroes. He wanted the audience to feel sympathy for both sides. However, I never ever felt a shred of sympathy for anyone on the Koffin camp. As much as Rebecca’s amazing in this film and as great as the performances were from Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole and Matt O’Leary, those were bad guys that I never felt any sympathy for whatsoever and quite frankly was eagerly anticipating something horrible to happen to every single one of them.
MOTHER’S DAY’s story is in fact based on the true Wichita murders, something I investigated after seeing this movie, but wish I’d never read about, because it’s by far the most horrific crime story I’ve ever come across. And because of that, I have even less sympathy for the Koffin brothers knowing whom they’re loosely based on.
Since I mentioned the psychological brutality of this film, I have to address the one scene that will split everyone right down the middle. The ATM scene with Alexa Vega. I don’t want to give it away, but several times throughout the movie, the levels of emotional complexity that these characters are forced to overcome are very, very difficult to watch, and the ATM scene is the one in particular that will stick with you long after the credits role for its mean-spirited nature.
I have to lastly point out Jaime King’s performance. The reason she’s one of the judges on VH1’s reality series SCREAM QUEENS is because she’s proven time and time again that she’s the best “scream queen” of this generation. This is her best acting in a genre film ever. Look at the moment in the car where Ike Koffin forces her to smile while fighting back tears and that pretty much encapsulates how amazing she is in this.
Overall, MOTHER’S DAY is an incredibly well-made and well-executed movie. It features stand out performances from some of the best actors you’ll ever see in a genre picture. And again, it shows a vast deal of maturity in Darren Bousman as a director. I liked it tremendously, but only after several days of thought. I can only compare it to when I walked out of Darren Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. That movie is easily one of the best movies committed to film, but have I seen it since it came out in theaters? Hell no. And I don’t know if I have the courage to sit through it ever again. MOTHER’S DAY is that type of film where I imagine it’d be difficult to revisit, although I definitely plan to; if anything just to marvel over the performances of these actors again. –Robg.
Read our exclusive interview with Darren Lynn Bousman right HERE.
Visit the official MOTHER’S DAY website: http://www.mothersdaythemovie.com