A remake of a 1980 Troma exploitation film, “Mother’s Day” at least makes an attempt to stand on its own two feet. Instead of direct imitation, director Darren Lynn Bousman endeavors to rework the central idea of maternal domination, fleshing out the story to fit a broader range of characters and a different style of violence. It’s an interesting failure, but the picture enjoys several grisly highlights, indulging itself to a point of exhaustion.
While remakes are rarely welcome, Bousman and screenwriter Scott Milam are hardly stepping on the toes of greatness with “Mother’s Day.” Peeling off the schlock to play more intensely as a hostage thriller, the filmmakers assemble a firm piece of genre entertainment, displaying ease establishing characters and choreographing the siege. The first half is a surprisingly fluid offering of terror, observing the wrath of Natalie’s brood as they bully the houseguests, while Mother herself barks out orders, with a lifetime of cruel manipulation keeping her rabid children obedient, rendering them heavily armed animals.
The psychological grip of “Mother’s Day” works best during these opening sequences, pitting the uneducated monsters against the panicky partygoers, promising a dark night of treacherous weather (the picture takes place during a tornado watch) and unsteady temperaments. Unfortunately, Bousman only manages to maintain suspense for a short time. After all, the director of three “Saw” movies is hardly going to keep this film reserved in terms of shock value.
When the gore arrives, it’s a pretty banal run of head explosions, hairpiece peelings, and stabbings. At one point, Natalie orders boiling water to be poured into the ears of a “disobedient” hostage. These outlandish acts of violence turn a tense movie into an obvious one, losing the raw nightmarish qualities of the home invasion and Natalie’s command of her kids. Bousman can’t seem to subdue his torture instincts.
While there’s a large ensemble employed to portray villains and victims, the only performer that matters is De Mornay. Calmly stalking around the frame as the diseased parent to a band of goons, the actress keeps a firm grip on her character, avoiding an overtly campy act to create a scarier presence the picture is in desperate need of. Granted, most of the supporting roles are handled poorly, with exaggerated displays of panic that snap the mood. De Mornay keeps enticingly reptilian, instantly making the most hideous figure of the film its most compelling character.
Clocking in at 110 minutes in length, “Mother’s Day” zones out during its conclusion, passively assembling a few twists that hardly matter as the script goes slack, draining all tension. To its credit, this is no crudely photocopied remake; the feature shapes a genuine effort to approach the concept from an alternate direction. However, the production overstuffs the script, making one wish not for the hostages to gradually squirm their way to freedom, but for Mother to hurry up and just kill everyone.