Jun 11, 2011

Mother's Day [2011] [18]

Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
It's easy (and often fun, I won't deny it) to be sniffy about the recent trend for horror remakes. Horror may always have been the genre that ate itself, but lately, it seems to have chowed down with almost disturbing zeal, regurgitating a lot of rubbish into cinemas. And that makes it all the more puzzling to me that most of the reviews I've seen for Mother's Day have been one star pannings, because this – while no classic – is one of the best remakes to come along in some time, and a pretty entertaining horror film in its own right.

The setup is pretty straightforward home invasion horror. A band of brothers (Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole and Matt O'Leary) who have just robbed a bank, one of them getting shot in the process, roll up to their Mother's house, but soon discover that she has moved, and that the new owners (Jaime King and Frank Grillo) are having a party in the basement. Desperate to find the money they have been sending their mother, so they have a fee to enable themselves to cross into Mexico, they take the partygoers hostage, and call their Mother (Rebecca DeMornay) and Sister (Deborah Ann Woll) to the house.

So far, so standard then, but there are a couple of elements at work here that enable Mother's Day to stand out. Chief among them is Rebecca DeMornay's performance as the titular criminal matriarch. It has been years since she did anything of note, and she's little short of revelatory here, giving a complex and engaging performance that powers every scene she's in. While there is always an undertone of threat in DeMornay's performance it is the outward friendliness with which she greets her son's hostages, and the way she seems to want them to be comfortable – without doing anything to help them – that is most disturbing. In many ways she's like the perverted nightmare vision of a perfect sitcom mom, even making a cake for the hostages. DeMornay takes the character credibly through several stages, from the outwardly friendly parent who just wants to get her boys out of these nice people's way to a brutal monster who will do just about anything if she is crossed, it's chilling and layered work, and makes Mother's Day worth seeing all by itself.

However, that's not the only interesting thing in the film. The rest of the bad guy performances are all pretty good, with Flueger, Cole and O'Leary giving each of the boys their own distinct personalities, and making each of them a different kind of threat, and True Blood's Deborah Ann Woll giving a performance that almost matches DeMornay's in its subtle complexities. The screenplay also works quite well, okay some dialogue is fairly perfunctory, but the characters are well-developed and there is an impressively uncompromising tone, a bleakness that gives the film a bit more punch than your average horror picture. This is especially true of the film's emphasis on punishment, which reaches its ultimate expression in a very tough scene in which two innocents are given the chance to live if they will pick up a knife and stab the other to death.

Darren Lynn Bousman does a solid, if not massively personal feeling, job behind the camera. There's a nice Carpenteresque cold open, and a tendency to keep much of the worst violence just off-screen, or just out of focus, which allows the imagination to go to work, but overall it's not as distinctive as the barmy and underrated Repo: The Genetic Opera.

On the downside, 112 minutes is long - too long - for a pretty basic home invasion horror, and outside of Shawn Ashmore as the Doctor trying help the injured bank robber the performances from the film's good guys (especially the wooden Jaime King) are less impressive than those of the bad guys. The film does slip into standard slasher silliness towards the end (a moment with a nailgun is laughable), but finds its feet again in the last moments with a great coda. On the whole, Mother's Day isn't perfect, but it's much better than I expected it to be, much better than it has any right to be, and if you're looking to see a nasty little horror movie, it's well worth a look.

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