Fantastic Fest Review: Darren Lynn Bousman's Mother's Day

Darren Lynn Bousman's Mother's Day premiered in the midnight movie slot at Fantastic Fest.

Bousman is a music video turned feature director who broke into the movie business on the Saw series sequels, and most recently helmed the low budget adaptation of the musical Repo! The Genetic Opera (which was dumped at the box office by Lionsgate and has since developed a cult following on DVD and through the midnight film circuit). A lot of non-horror critics like to bash Bousman, some people even call him a hack. I've actually stood up for the filmmaker in a few arguments with fellow film geeks.

Saw 2 is actually a solid horror film (probably because it came with a prewritten/repackaged script and Bousman was trying hard to prove himself) but the later installments were bad on most accounts (likely due to the mandate to produce a sequel each year and the constant attempts to mine the mythology of previous installments which led to logic problems). I enjoyed Repo but didn't love it like some people I know. Bousman is friendly with a lot of the online horror critics, and they seem to give him glowing reviews. While I'm not completely on the bandwagon, I do think Bousman has a future (...probably outside of the horror genre).

Bousman attempts to do away with the death traps, gimmicks and theatrical production values with his latest film, Mother's Day, a remake of the Charles Kaufman-directed Troma Films-distributed 1980 film of the same title. The film tells the story of a sadistic family who return to the safety of their childhood when one of the brothers is shot during a robbery gone wrong. They are shocked to find a new couple has since moved into the house and terrorize the new home owners and their house guests waiting for their chance to escape.

But it isn't your normal home invasion film, the sadistic family is led by their Mother (played perfectly by Rebecca De Mornay) who cooks baked goods for the hostages, dispenses advice, and takes control of the situation. The film takes a while to get started, and is a slow build, but does pack some solid moments once it gets going. The film feels a bit overlong, and could use some more time in the editing room.

Rebecca De Mornay is front and center, and takes command of the screen whenever she appears. But I came out of the film most impressed by Jaime King (Sin City, Fanboys), who proves she has some serious acting chops. She definitely deserves a chance at a film upwards and outside of the b-flick universe. The big problem with the script is that King's character is taken out of the house early on, as a hostage of one of the brothers on an errand run. After she was removed from the equation, the dynamic of the characters in the house got a lot less interesting. The reason being, the characters in this movie are paper-thin and rather generic. However, King makes the most of it and gets you to care more about her character than you rightfully should (and even this, yes, the script attempts to ruin in the later part of the film).

Bousman borrows from the early days of the Saw franchise (before it became just torture porn) and presents us with a few situations which test human nature in the face of moral dilemma. For instance, two women friends are given a knife, and told that if one of them doesn't kill the other, they both will be shot dead. The violence is gore-filled, and those of you who didn't like Bousman's earlier work probably won't like this film either.

Joseph White's photography feels over-lit at times. The action near the end of the film is kind of sloppy — close-ups, shaky doc-style camera work with no sense of orientation or understanding of what's going on.

At the end of the day, Mother's Day is much better than a Troma remake has any right to be — but that might not be good enough.