Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet
M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)
Directed by Tucia Lyman
Indie Rights Movies / Aha Productions
99 minutes, 2020
The following statement comes with a caveat: films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) ruined the found footage genre for me, in most cases. It has come across as a cheap way to tell a story by either letting the actors be the filmmakers, or the use of mounted cameras, which takes it away from a human touch (sort of like a scan-it-yourself aisle in a supermarket). But, every once in a while, someone still manages to make it right. Hence, this exception.
We live in a world full of reflection through a camera, be it selfies or someone trying to make some kind of record of an incident (e.g., check out public meltdown videos on YouTube). Either way it is based on ego, such as believing the event is important, a way to point a finger of blame away from oneself to another (for example, the 1983 book And I Don’t Want to Live This Life, by Nancy Spungen’s mom, Deborah), or a deep-seated fear that compels one want to make sure your story is told. This film falls into all three of these categories.
|Melinda Page Hamilton|
The mother in question is Abby (Melinda Page Hamilton). Her teenage son, Jacob (Bailey Edwards), has a history of acting out in violent ways that Abby refers to as “Monster Time,” such as randomly dropping bricks off high buildings without looking to see if anyone is below. With a way of charming psychoanalysts that most true psychopaths have, he has managed to skirt his way around the legal system. This worries Abby because, in part, as she states early on, “Remember what happened to the Boy who Cried Wolf; he was eaten by the fucking wolf.”
The found footage aspect is either Abby recording herself on a cell phone to tell her side of the story, videos made by others such as Jacob’s friends, or the hidden cameras Abby has placed throughout the house. We get to view them, not necessarily in chronological order, thereby giving us a bit of perspective on Jacob to show that it’s possibly not just a puberty/hormone thing.
One of the brilliant aspects of this thriller is the question of absolutes. Jacob can be an outright shit, but so can Abby. The question is left hanging for quite a while whether Jacob is insanely violent, or is his mom over-vigilant – such as lack of respect of his privacy – due to aspects such as her over-drinking wine-goggles, or Adderall pills she sneaks from Jacob (or both).
One important way of looking at this is through a modern lens, both literally and figuratively. On the literal side, the tone of the film puts it clearly in the canon alongside the likes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) with the mood of intra-family fear of threats of violence that keep escalating. Though in color, this is clearly a Noir piece with modern technology of cells, Skype and Spy Cams added in.
As for the figurative, despite its gothic throwback mood, it’s placed in a modern situation, where teenagers are inundated with not just said technology, but the psychological damage of living in a post-Columbine era of increasingly frequent mass shootings, a fascination with Nazis, casual Anti-Semitism, and public spectacles of events like Charlottesville, all of which play into the story in some form or another.
Most indie films have some questionable acting, but every person here puts in a solid performance. Edwards is strong as he seems to flip back and forth between a normal kid and one that you are really not too sure about (I certainly would not want my daughter to date Jacob, but would understand why she might be attracted to him). But as the lynchpin, Hamilton’s portrayal of Abby is Class-A work, and would be deserving of Festival wins at the least. Her past experiences in the likes of numerous television series such as Messiah, How to Get Away with Murder, Mad Men and Big Love come through spectacularly. There is also a very short cameo by Ed Asner, for some added star power.
Lately, I have been feeling more and more as though those who write a film should not direct them because it helps to have a third party do some editing (Hereditary and Midsommar come to mind). However, Tucia Lyman balances the two like a champ, and makes me have second thoughts about that. Before this piece of psychological cinema, her directorial experience was a couple of documentaries and a few episodes of a television series about “real” ghosts, though you’d never know that this was her feature debut.
There are some scenes that are unexpected and downright shocking (again, figuratively and literally), with some squeamish bits, but mostly this is a psychological thriller. The game of “who is the crazy one” is played out in sharp detail, and there are lots of twists and turns to keep the viewer entertained from the first shot to the last.