Lloyd Kaufman’s 1980 Troma production of his brother Charles’ original ‘Mother’s Day’ was not scary in the slightest. This rape and revenge film was a hilariously crazy over the top cheesfest with wacky characterization and a in your face social sub-text that has garnered a strong cult following within the horror/exploitation community for those very reasons. Finally getting a US Blu-ray/DVD release this year on the 8th May after several delays Brett Ratner’s 2010 production of Darren Lynn Bousman’s pseudo-remake takes basic elements from its source material for nodding references in homage minus the rape. It is a complete reimagining with entirely different plot and characters turning the premise into a brutally intense home invasion thriller.
The movie opens in the maternity ward of a hospital with the abduction of a newborn baby by a woman disguised as a nurse with the help of a man dressed up as a security guard. Their identities are concealed to the audience. We then cut to the soon to be invaded home where we are introduced to the eight soon to be hostages at an ill-timed birthday party while their relationships to each other are established. This is cross cut with a scene featuring three men in a car going at high speed. We learn that they are the Koffin bothers - Ike (Patrick Flueger), Addley (Warren Kole) and Johnny (Matt O'Leary). The youngest of the three siblings Johnny is wounded by a gunshot to the stomach and we hear about how their non-family partner in crime has stabbed them in the back making off with their money during a botched bank robbery. The group dynamics tell us that the oldest Ike is the leader with his head screwed on right under pressure and Addly is the unstable unpredictable loony.
The fugitive brothers arrive at what they assume to be their mother’s house hoping she can help with their getaway but instead gatecrash the party that is being held downstairs in the basement. The music is so loud the people downstairs cannot hear the three of them. They make first contact with each other when the partygoers hear a single sound from upstairs and the head of the household and birthday boy Daniel (Frank Grillo) goes up to investigate thinking that it is another guest arriving. While Johnny is bleeding out on the couch the other two brothers question Daniel at gunpoint about what has happened to their family home. Daniel explains that he and his estate agent wife Beth (Jamie King) bought the house in a foreclosure.
When his wife Beth comes up to see what is going on she tries to escape. Caught and brought back into the house by Ike before any neighbours can see Beth then explains that her brother George (Shawn Ashmore) is a doctor and can help their brother. After Beth brings up George from the basement without letting on to the rest of the party under instruction from Ike, he receives a phone call from the brothers’ younger sister Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll) after she got Ike’s messages. He tells her that Johnny has been severely injured and could die and with that mother is on the way. We find out later that Ike lost the emergency phone to be able to speak his mother so she was unable to tell him that she lost the house.
When another guest Julie (Lisa Marcos) stumbles upon them and screams running back downstairs, Addly goes down after her and takes control of everybody in the basement. When their mother turns up the brothers find out that she has not been receiving the money they had been sending her to this address. When Daniel and Beth claim to know no knowledge of the money mother and her boys make everybody give up their valuables and ATM cards with pin numbers to get the cash together they desperately need for their contact at the Canadian border for their escape. Ike and Beth are sent out to go get it.
Aside from the ambiguous opening sequence, the rest of the first 20-minutes concerning the set-up are so hackneyed though it does get straight into the action at a ferocious pace. We have the conflicting personalities of the two stereotypical villains one who is commanding and on the ball and the other who is so unbalanced and willing to off their captives locking horns due to their differing views on how to handle their dire situation. Oh, and one of the guests of the small group of eight just so happens to be a doctor to be able to tend to their wounded younger brother. However, George’s profession actually serves another purpose later, as it is through his professional skills that he uncovers the dysfunctional twisted family’s secret. Despite two stock antagonists and other clichés that crop up throughout its smidge under 2-hours running time, Bousman’s execution makes the material engaging and tense viewing.
Although, there are more deep and intricate details of the screenplay that helps raise the film above average in the home invasion torture sub-genre turning into something solidly entertaining as the director balances its psychological aspects with some disgustingly unpleasant violence. Darren Lynn Bousman manages to overcome these flaws in Steve Millam’s script bringing out effectively its strengths in other departments in the other characters’ development and its nice touches of twists and turns. The writer and director team take what is essentially a run of the mill captives versus captors story and turns it into something more complex as this predicament brings to the surface the characters’ hidden secrets and they are punished for their sins.
This happens through the presence of the coldly calculating "The Mother" Natalie Koffin played by Rebecca De Mornay in a stellar turn. Anybody who has seen her knockout performance in Curtis Hanson’s hugely enjoyable ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ (1992) will know that this immensely talented actress is perfectly capable of playing a chillingly convincing creepy psychopath. She cleverly manipulates her hostages forcing them to turn on each other as they struggle to survive and she will resort to extreme measures for the safety of her children. De Mornay is the stand out of the cast but the acting is strong all round. With the aid of some strong characterization of the captives, the actors really bring across their believability. The women on the whole are the more likable and stronger characters here while some of the men are portrayed as pathetic and selfish. A neat narrative device concerning the dangerous threat of an impending tornado amp up the peril stakes for the luckless victims of this home invasion as there is hardly anybody about as the neighbourhood continues to be emptied by people fleeing.
This is combined with Bousman’s gifted knack of executing horrific scenes of sadistic torture. This was previously evidenced in the more elaborate set-pieces of two of the better entries in the Saw franchise - ‘Saw II’ (2005) and ‘Saw III’ (2006) - and in one of the lesser instalments in 2007’s ‘Saw IV’. These scenarios are very well choreographed and played out making for terrifyingly nerve-shredding and unsettling viewing. Though these sequences are not of the over splattery kind they are every bit squirm inducing with the gore coming from the graphic gunshot moments with some exceptional special make-up effects with no CGI blood in sight.
‘Mother’s Day’ is nicely shot, edited and scored and while far from perfect despite its flaws it is an overall smart and suspenseful yet bleak and disturbing piece of gritty entertainment that does not contain one dull moment pulling no punches with its subject matter. Overall, it is well worth a look. Recommended.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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