Yes, another remake of something a focus group barely remembered. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, trying to break out into a career beyond Saw sequels, and writer Scott Milam (who gets an additional credit for ‘screen story’) take the broad-strokes of the 1980 Charles Kaufman film, pitting a tough heroine with less tough friends against the psycho sons of a mad matriarch, but deliver an essay in a different sub-genre. The first Mother’s Day was a stay-out-of-the-woods shocker with a black comic edge, but this is a home invasion picture tooled as a vehicle for Rebecca de Mornay as a less harridanlike mad mother than Rose Ross. In a nod to the original, Mother’s feral sister Queenie is evoked, as a story she uses to keep the kids in line – but, sadly, she doesn’t show up in the climax. Neither, equally sadly, does the hurricane everyone talks about in the first half of the film. The upshot is a rape-revenge film in which no one is actually raped (though there’s a lot of nasty sexual menace) and the revenge isn’t completed. After the remakes of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave and with a new Straw Dogs on the way, a rape-light remake isn’t exactly something to complain about and the film doesn’t skimp on mean-spiritedness. Typical is an incidental scene (ahem, homaging The Dark Knight) in which two dim girl witnesses (guest stars Alexa Vega and AJ Cook) are told if one kills the other she’ll go free (it doesn’t work out well for anyone).
This plays best as a clash between divas, with Jaime King holding up her end as the survivor woman, and at least manages a suspenseful first half before things dissipate. Bousman, used to the set-piece/guest victim structure of Saw, fills the house with too many extra characters and loses sight of quite a few – for real horror, the focus needs to be narrower. In a set-up more influenced by Bloody Mama or The Grissom Gang than Mother’s Day, bank robbers Ike (Patrick Flueger) and Addley (Warren Kole) – why characters born in the 1980s would be named after 1950s presidential candidates is a mystery – have fouled up and return to their mama’s home with gutshot brother Johnny (Matt O’Leary) bleeding all over the place. But Lydia Koffin (DeMornay) has lost the house to a tax auction, and troubled young couple Beth (King) and Daniel Sohapi (Frank Grillo) – who, like too many couples in post-Don’t Look Now horror, have lost a child – have moved in. The crooks terrorise the normals and mama shows up with a strange daughter (Deborah Ann Woll, from True Blood). A hurricane is due, which keeps the cops busy and the streets empty, and the ironically-named Sohapis have a crowd (too many) guests in the house. The roll call: a tough tattooed chick (Brana Evigan, from the Sorority Row remake), an angry black guy (Lyriq Bent, from Saw sequels), Daniel’s secret girlfriend (Lisa Marcos), a whiny lawyer with hair implants that get ripped out (Tony Nappo), a black girl with no discernible character traits (Kandyse McClure), a nice guy doctor (Shawn Ashmore, Iceman from the X-films) forced to do impromptu surgery on Johnny’s gunshot involving a coffee can lid, and a single mom (Jessie Rusu) who gets shot and dumped early but survives in needless cutaways to a hospital that add a when-will-she-wake-up-and-tell-the-cops angle.
It sketches in some social anger, with Mother lamenting ‘they packed up our life and threw it away’ as she finds her former possessions in the new householder’s trash and tuts at the redecoration the Sohapis have done – but the Koffins are plainly sociopath scum rather than driven to extremes by economics. Lydia has stolen all her babies, a prologue implies – though this strand pays off unexpectedly. DeMornay commands the screen, underplaying and cooing as she insists on good manners and calm (and cake) while ruthlessly exploiting the victims’ traumas and misdeeds. Sums of stolen money the gang have ‘sent home to mother’ are missing, and there’s a thread about who might have it and how far the Koffins will go to get it back. Below the belt torture tactic – burning irreplaceable snapshots of the dead son (this follows the usual screen convention of assuming that even kids who logically were born in 2003 have pre-digital childhood memories). The film keeps piling extra stuff on the basic story – Beth is let out of the house with Ike to harvest cash from ATMs, and they run around town while things get worse back home – while building up other characters as possible heroes or heroines just takes away from King’s strong turn. DeMornay is the main monster attraction, in the rest of the gang are all scary but weak. Lydia decides Johnny’s wish that he not die a virgin should be honoured, but isn’t satisfied with any of the women in the house as a worthy prospect, but stops short of taking the incest implications much further (in this, she’s less extreme than Jamie Lee Curtis in the weak Mother’s Boys). Woll makes something of nothing as the sheltered girl who disapproves of rape (‘you told us it should always be the woman’s choice’) and shows signs of defection (a trope from The Hills Have Eyes).
So, DeMornay is the new Shelley Winters. Almost everyone else here is working at half-strength.