As a hurricane sweeps in, a group of middle class friends gather for a storm party in the basement of Daniel and Beth Sohapi’s home. With disco blaring from the stereo, the partygoers do not hear three bank robbers enter the house. In a misunderstanding that will have catastrophic consequences, the fugitive Koffin brothers mistakenly believe this to still be their mother’s house – being unaware that she lost the home and the Sohapi’s bought it in foreclosure proceedings.
With one of the brothers seriously wounded, the Koffin boys take the Sohapi’s and their friends hostage and plan to wait out the storm. After the arrival of their mother (De Mornay, who owns this film) and sister (Woll) matters become further complicated when the oldest Koffin brother reveals he has been sending money to the house for months after the eviction. Convinced the Sohapi’s are hiding her money in the house Ma Koffin starts a campaign of psychological and physical terrorization against the Sohapi’s and their friends.
A very loose remake of a 1980 Troma release (which I’ve never seen), Bousman’s film is not strictly horror. While the title might lead you to expect a slasher film (along the lines of the many masked killer flicks tied to significant dates Friday The 13th, My Bloody Valentine, New Year’s Evil, Silent Night Deadly Night, April Fool’s Day – the list goes on and on) this is closer to the rough home invasion thrillers of the 70s, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or the notorious video nasty Fight For Your Life. Bousman aims for a steady ratcheting of tension and suspense, rather than shock tactics. Having said that the film does not stint on gore and features some very uncomfortable scenes that may be too tough for general audiences (the film earns its UK 18 certificate). Bousman may be a veteran of the SAW franchise (he directed episodes 2, 3 and 4) but here he mostly leaves behind the fast cutting and tricky camera effects for a more measured directorial style. This pays off in an extremely tense third act.
Despite strong violence it is the psychological terror that makes the most impact. There are several scenes of sustain sexualised intimidation and threat that, while not especially graphic or gratuitous, are emotionally very powerful. Potential accusations of misogyny are offset by the fact that Mother’s Day has an unusually strong cast of female characters (as both victims and perpetrators) and the male characters almost all exemplify negative character traits (with one exception). De Mornay gets the best part as the at first reasonable Ma Koffin who becomes increasingly unhinged as the situation spirals out of control. King delivers an excellent performance as the initially fragile Beth Sohapi, who reveals inner steel missing from behind the men’s macho posturing.
It’s a shame then that the film is let down by some issues which could have been easily rectified. At 112 minutes it’s a little too long, sagging in the middle section where some of the tension created by the no-messing first act is allowed to dissipate. There are perhaps a few too many characters, with some being forgotten when they have fulfilled their purpose in solving a plotting issue (Ashmore’s character is particularly poorly served in this regard). Some persistent plot niggles force the viewer out of the action at key points. I don’t want to discuss these as they all fall into spoiler territory, but just one example – on the eve of a major hurricane when the streets are deserted and police are evacuating residents, is it credible that bins are still being emptied?
Most annoying is an ending which moves into horror territory, and is both illogical and undercuts the otherwise terrific final 20 minutes. My advice: just leave the cinema when the film reaches a natural conclusion, what happens next will mostly likely just annoy. Mother’s Day is a solid film, its virtues outweigh its issues, but they are too significant to ignore completely.