Darren Bousman’s re-imagining of the 1980 Troma classic Mother’s Day delivers on the violence, but fails to make an impact.
What starts as a tense home invasion thriller after a bank robbery gone wrong quickly shifts gears into character sketches of a dysfunctional family and the even more dysfunctional group of friends that they terrorize. Charles Kaufman’s original tongue-in-cheek shlock film featured a cold-hearted hillbilly caricature as the matriarch and her two one-dimensional sons bent on rape and destruction. Bousman’s depiction lends much more weight to Rebecca De Mornay’s portrayal as the murderous maternal influence ruling over the Koffin family. Her performance is one of the film’s highlights, with her cold, snake-like death stare and demented rule over her ‘offspring’. The film could use some of the original over-the-top drama that made the original an enjoyable (albeit ridiculous) bit of horror violence. To Bousman’s credit, what he has made with Mother’s Day isn’t a remake at all, but a re-imagining of the film that keeps the core ideas of a family of demented sadists and adds motivation for their fucked up take on family values.
The film quickly gets into the ‘what would you do to survive’ argument, as the hostages own weaknesses and cowardice are revealed and they begin to turn on each other. The typical home invasion horror tropes play out with little in the way of innovation, and the numerous power struggles between each of the family members and the dinner party hostages plays more like cable melodrama than high tension. They’re left alone, they’re paralyzed with fear, they try to escape, they’re punished. No new territory here. Again, De Mornay’s leading of her family in punishment-and pleasure-with the victims keeps the tension high, until a number of scenes attempting to develop character derail the action in the middle. They center around individual family members and the underutilized Shawn Ashmore (of Frozen and Hatchet II) and heroine Jaime King’s vain attempts to win them over to their side. It’s an odd choice, as at no point does it seem a believable possibility that any of the Koffin family will turn against each other. Even if they waiver, its never for long. The film spends too much screen time trying to show shades of grey on the good guy/bad guy scale, and over explaining survival themes of family and kinship.
As a result, when the reveals start pouring out within the group of friends being held hostage (and their are many), the audience hardly cares. Any time the story has spent on them has done nothing but reveal their selfishness or negative characteristics. There’s no emotional impact to the group’s drama, and it does little to inform their actions or move the story forward. By the time that Jaime King’s character finally grows a pair and starts fighting back, the likeability factor of the people she’s fighting to save has reached an all-time low. That being said, when Mother’s Day focuses on the individual survival of any given character, it really hits its stride. There are a number of cringe-worthy torture and fight scenes that (unlike some of the torture themes that’ve grown so tiresome) actually serve a purpose within the storyline. It’s these life-and-death action scenes that stay with the character in the moment and that ultimately make the film worth a view.