When the original "Mother's Day
" was released in 1980, most critics wrote it off as nothing more than a low-rent slasher nasty from Troma. Had they bothered to look beneath the surface, they would have noticed director Charles Kaufman's cunning satirical messaging on everything from lame self-help gurus to extreme matriarchal hierarchy to the absurdly powerful reach of media and advertising in the present-day world. And so, when the intended victims turned the tables on their backwoods yokel captors, it was not by mistake that the deranged mother of the title was suffocated by inflatable breasts and one of her equally dangerous grown sons had a TV thrown on his headsly but sure indictments of the perversity and roaming consumerism that ruled their lives. The film's inevitable loose remake of the same name has its own thematic agenda, exploiting our current financial crisis and the prickly housing market, but writer-director Darren Lynn Bousman (2008's "Repo! The Genetic Opera
") is more transparent about his aims. When similar deaths occur near the end, there is no apparent symbolism; he's simply paying homage to the earlier picture.
2012's "Mother's Day," finally seeing the light of day in the U.S. after a couple years on the shelf, is a very different movie than its precursor. While there are a few similaritiesa couple shared character names, some spare lines of dialogue, and talk of a malevolent feral woman lurking outside named Queeniethe plots are completely different. Bousman displays a clear affection for his source material in varied sneaky ways throughout, but he almost sells himself short by calling it "Mother's Day" at all. With only a few tweaks, this taut, well-paced and consistently unnerving home-invasion thriller could have been renamed and viewed as its own original entity, and might have been better for it.
When a bank robbery is botched, criminal brothers Ike (Patrick Flueger), Addley (Warren Kole) and a badly injured Johnny (Matt O'Leary) attempt to hide from police by holing up in the home lived in by their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) and teen sister Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll). What they discover, instead, is that the banks have foreclosed on Mama's house while they've been away, giving her the boot while a young couple, Beth (Jaime King) and Daniel Sohapi (Frank Grillo), wasted no time moving in. With Beth and Daniel hosting a get-together in the basement with seven friends, a hostage situation erupts that quickly leads to murder. When their mother finally arrives to take control, she attempts to make the best of a tough situation, but doesn't like when people lie to her. They need $10,000 to safely make it across the border and, as it turns out, Ike and Addley had been sending money to this very address for some time, unaware that their mother had moved. Beth and/or Daniel must know where the cash is, and she's determined to get them to talk or make them pay with their lives.
"Mother's Day" features plenty of character dramaand quite a few subplots, to boot, including infidelity, baby-snatching, a family still coping with the loss of a young son, and a looming storm and possible tornado outsideyet moves so quickly past the setup that the ensemble of protagonists and antagonists are not properly developed at the start. When the Koffin brothers unknowingly break into Beth's and Daniel's house, we're only at the five-minute mark and the folks downstairs have yet to move beyond obnoxious. Meanwhile, director Darren Lynn Bousman shows an enticing empathy for the plight of Mother and her own family, blurring the line between "good" and "bad" guys until her polite, even-keeled behavior grows increasingly twisted and psychotic. It's nevertheless a fascinating dynamic, the brothers (and sister) at full control by their only parent, a woman who is as big on manners as she is on ruthless eye-for-an-eye vengeance. As Mother, Rebecca De Mornay (2012's "American Reunion
") is like a more glamorous version of the original movie's Rose Ross, the love she has for her family and penchant for violence with a side scoop of ice cream making her a one-of-a-kind villainess. One minute the viewer might think she's endearing, and the next they'll be rooting for her to meet a grisly demise. De Mornay exuberantly sells the part, jumping into the character with a full-throttle ferocity that leaves her the most unforgettable element in an otherwise rather standard-issue genre pic about home-invasion. The rest of the cast is convincing, too, keeping emotions at a rattling high even as they yearn for more individual character beats.
Wince-inducing at times and never what one could call boring, "Mother's Day" demands attention but isn't terribly different from 2007's "Them
," 2008's "Funny Games
" and "The Strangers
," and, especially, 2011's "Kidnapped
." As fights to survive lead to sobering violence and dwindling hope for a happy ending, Bousman captures all the action and conflict with immediacy and realism. He also tacks on a bit too much side story, with revelations from multiple parties not really leading up to much and the epilogue feeling disappointingly trite. At its core, howeveras a tense and savage portrait of the American Dream gone wrong"Mother's Day" is nothing if not affecting and effective. Reactions will be split down the middle, depending on the viewer's endurance for tough material, but no one can say the filmmaker didn't achieve what he set out to.