Mother’s Day

| May 8, 2012

On paper, a remake of Troma’s 1980 film Mother’s Day seems like both a terrible idea and one that probably would have made a fair amount of money at the height of  the Saw era. The fact that the film has missed that particular moment is not really an issue, however, as this version of Mother’s Day is not a strict remake of the original, but instead a sort of hostage thriller that keeps the barest of concepts from the original film (a scary mother and her monstrous, amoral children) and ditches pretty much everything else. Instead of a “teens in the woods” story, this modern Mother’s Day transplants the action to the suburbs, a concept not without merit, but the execution (while grisly) is somewhat unsatisfying.

Troubled husband and wife Beth and Daniel (Jaime King and Frank Grillo) are having a Friday night house party for several of their friends in their new home, recently acquired after a foreclosure. Daniel has reinforced the basement to act as a tornado shelter, which is good since a vicious storm is set to roll over their neighborhood later that evening. While the party goers mingle and flirt downstairs, a trio of bank-robbing brothers enter the house to hide out, thinking their mother still lives there. They quickly discover this is not the case, and while Johnny (Matt O’ Leary) bleeds out on a nice new sofa from a serious gunshot wound, hair-trigger Addley (Warren Kole) terrorizes the houseguests and seemingly level-headed Ike (Patrick John Flueger) tries to keep a lid on the situation and contact their mother, Natalie (Rebecca De Mornay).

Once Natalie arrives along with the boys’ sister Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll), she sets everyone to work and attempts to figure out an escape plan. Daniel is put in charge of making sure everyone in the basement behaves (i.e. doesn’t try to escape), Beth is sent out with Ike to use the friends’ credit cards to get the cash Natalie needs for their contact to get them across the border, and Daniel’s friend George (Shawn Ashmore) is tasked with keeping Johnny alive long enough for the family to make their escape. Tensions mount among the friends in the basement, with Daniel wanting to follow Natalie’s orders and his friend Treshawn (Lyriq Bent) demanding action, convinced Natalie’s word that cooperation will lead to their safe release is a lie.

For most of its first half, Mother’s Day effectively builds tension with its parallel situations and is best  when it exposes the frayed ends of the relationships between the friends and the couples being held captive. Treshawn is itching for a fight, but his girlfriend Gina (Kandyse McClure) agrees with Daniel that cooperation is their best chance of survival. Annette (Briana Evigan) is angry at her ineffective fiance Dave (Tony Nappo) for not doing anything when Addley threatened to rape her if she got out of line. George’s girlfriend Melissa (Jessie Rusu), a single mother, is just terrified and panicked, while Daniel’s work friend Julie (Lisa Marcos) is shell-shocked. Meanwhile, George tries to convince Lydia that her mother is misleading her and Beth tries desperately to find a way to escape Ike and find help.

As the film continues, though, keeping the action going outside the house with Ike and Beth requires more and more elaborate postponing that eventually becomes tiresome. Beth does something wrong/tries to escape, Ike punishes her/captures her, repeat. Finally, writer Scott Milam resorts to having characters make painfully awful decisions that serve to extend the running time and frustrate the audience, but serve little other purpose. A few characters making a couple of decisions based on common sense would probably have shaved half an hour off the film. Once the bad decisions start rolling and the guns start blazing, Mother’s Day finally degenerates into a by-the-numbers thriller, although one with some particularly nasty kills and a couple of small surprises near the end. Still, it’s nearly worth the price of admission for De Mornay’s cold-blooded performance alone, and despite the somewhat disappointing last act, Mother’s Day is still a tense, gruesome thriller that mostly delivers.

Anchor Bay released Mother’s Day on Blu-ray and DVD 8 May 2012. Special features include commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and star Shawn Ashmore.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:

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