Turns out MOTHER’S DAY isn’t a holiday-themed slasher, it’s a fairly twisted home invasion story about three criminal brothers who take refuge at their mother’s house after some manner of heist goes wrong. One of them is bleeding badly from a brutal gutshot (seriously, the make-up effects on it are pretty damned gnarly once you see the thing), but the other two can’t exactly give his wound the attention it deserves because they’re too busy wondering why the inside of their mother’s house looks completely different from how it did a few months ago. The new owners also happen to be too busy partying in the basement with their fellow suburbanites to notice their living room is now a fugitive triage center.
Of course eventually someone has to go upstairs, and thus begins one hell of a Yom Kippur.
Things start off solid as Bousman and screenwriter Scott Milam quickly establish who is who whilst planting a nice variety of seeds for possible conflicts: Can the gutshot brother be saved? Who is mother and why are they all afraid of her? How are the hostages going to come up with the money the family needs to flea? Why did the film open with a baby being kidnapped? It’s a nice batch of mysteries considering most home invasion movies are content with simply, well, invading the home. Unfortunately what Bousman and Milam then decide to do with the extra room they’ve engineered for themselves ultimately ends up crippling the film.
Instead of keeping that space as a breathing room for its characters, MOTHER’S DAY fills the void with increasingly implausible scenarios. Instead of having a tried-and-true kidnapper-hostage relationship, members of the former end up repeatedly opining about the hardships of life and how people need to earn their keep. And that would be fine if it stayed as the kind of villainous opining we all love, but what it really becomes is an excuse to pit the hostages against one another. Forcing them to fight amongst themselves under imposed scenarios along the lines of ‘we will kill you both unless one of you kills the other first’ not only grows tedious within the confines of the film, but it drags in a regrettable reminder that even when Bousman would like to leave the SAW franchise, Jigsaw’s shenanigans are still, intentionally or not, very much so on his mind.
And that’s a shame, because the “everyone is a killer when they need to be” territory is all too familiar these days and isn’t nearly as interesting as the dynamic between the sadistic family. There’s a very welcome edge to their sincerity that’s more threatening than watching the insecurities of the hostages exploited in rather obvious ways. By the halfway mark there are only two or three people who warrant caring about, which really makes the film’s second half more of a chore than a treat.
It’s not problematic enough to ruin the entire film, though. The key players are all quite strong, particularly Deborah Ann Woll, Shawn Ashmore (who has been taking on great parts in the genre over the last few years), Patrick John Flueger (who plays the lead brother), Jamie King, and, of course, Rebecca De Mornay. The make-up effects are grizzly, but not over-the-top and in-your-face, which is a nice change of pace for Bousman; as is a very slick sheen throughout the production that reveals the often chided filmmaker as more than just a grimy, grungy breed of horror director. It’s just regrettable that the film’s two genre niches, like its two core groups of characters, do not mix well together.