In 1980, Troma pictures released a little maternal bloodbath entitled 'Mother's Day'. If you aren't familiar with Troma, they are a trashy, bargain-basement house of schlock that despite itself has managed to amass quite a cult following. 'Mother's Day' is incidentally an apt display of Troma's core values. It's a dirty rape-revenge tale that makes inept attempts at black comedy.
As much as the word remake is often synonymous with potential disaster or total insult, especially with horror fans, 'Mother's Day' is a mouthpiece for why remakes as a concept should exist. There is a half-way interesting story at the heart of the 1980 original -- two boys so desperate to earn their mother's love that they take turns brutalizing innocent women in attempt to sadistically one-up each other -- but the execution leaves much to be desired. Enter Darren Bousman ('Repo: The Genetic Opera', 'Saw II-IV').
This year's revamping of 'Mother's Day' is a solid piece of filmmaking. Though that may seem like tepid praise, this film is already starting to garner a reputation for being divisive. The scourge of hyperbole is already labeling it the "worst of the festival." This is of course a diluted insult considering it premiered on day one, but the knee-jerks must have their say. That's not to say that this review is in any way intended to champion a brow-beaten film; on the contrary I have problems with 'Mother's Day'. It's not the best, but overall it is a slick, gory, and ultimately satisfying horror remake.
What really stood out, mostly in comparison to the original, is the sharpness of the performances. Rebecca De Mornay turns in a stellar -- and uniquely disturbing -- performance as the evil matriarch. She is poised, withholding, and coldly brutal. She spends the entirety of the film as a coiled snake from whom the threat of wrath becomes just as horrific as seeing it enacted. While the rest of the cast meshes well as an ensemble and suffers only the occasional misstep, the standout performance apart from De Mornay's is that of the eldest mama's boy played by Patrick John Flueger. I found him not only the most intense of the brothers, but also the most sympathetic. This could largely in part be because one of the other brothers goes to very generic "crazy guy" tropes and the other is doing a shameless impression of Tim Roth from 'Reservoir Dogs.'
As home invasion horror goes, 'Mother's Day' does so many things correctly. It ratchets up the tension so well ... for the first two acts, at least. It's familiar enough to placate fans of the subgenre but also injects a bit of social commentary regarding the economy and the housing market; fascinating topic for a horror film to tackle though that may seem. The violence is both uncomfortable and only explicit when it serves the entertainment value for the hardcore horrorphiles. It also has a surprisingly good score that not only sets the tone, but heralds the arrival of "mama" in such a way as to make you fear this woman before we know anything about her. Also, the fact that it was inspired by 'Goblin' makes it even more spectacular.
But 'Mother's Day' harbors some major faults even within this strange horror subgenre. The pacing is exceedingly clunky, and that is due in large part to the repetitive, and self-negating turning points. In most home invasion films, a character will attempt one or two escape/attack plans that get thwarted before finally finding the Achilles' heel or deus ex machina that constitutes the turning point. In 'Mother's Day', there are roughly six of these moments that all end badly for the already beleaguered hostages. It becomes an exercise in futility that is terribly frustrating and accounts for the uneven feel of the third act.
All in all, this is not a great film. In fact, it's not even the best home invasion film playing Fantastic Fest; 'Kidnapped' holds that spot. But it's not a terrible film and nowhere near deserves the scorn it's accumulated. I would definitely dub it Bousman's best, of that I am certain.