I suppose the most surprising thing about Darren Lynn Bousman’s Mother’s Day isn’t that it is a horror movie about Mother’s Day—nearly every other holiday has already gotten the horror treatment by now—but that it’s also a remake. This movie is the perfect gift for the man who hates his mom. Mother’s Day is a nasty piece of torture porn that will leave you actively hating the human race, which is not at all surprising since this flick comes from the guy who directed Saw II, III, and IV.
Following a brief pre-title sequence Mother’s Day opens with a family of vicious bank robbers, the Koffins, bursting into the suburban home of a couple of yuppies who are throwing a party. It turns out that the house used to belong to the mother of the Koffin brood, but the property had been foreclosed on; a fact of which the bank robbers are apparently unaware. That’s bad news for the unsuspecting owners of the home and their party guests, because the besieged criminals are violent, ill-tempered, and not at all happy to find out that their childhood home has been sold. It doesn’t take the fugitives long to take the inhabitants of the house hostage and place a call to dear old Mama Koffin, and then things go from bad to worse.
As Mama Koffin, Rebecca De Mornay plays a variation of the Ma Barker character, an archetype almost as old as Hollywood itself. In real life Ma Barker was the matriarch of the Barker-Karpis gang, a distinguished gang of thieves and murderers that operated primarily out of the Midwest during the John Dillinger era of bank of robbery. Ma Barker was gunned down by federal agents during a disastrous attempt to apprehend a member of the gang, and the FBI pegged her as the group’s mastermind in order to save face.
Barker, of course, was nothing more than a dumb hillbilly being taken along for the ride by her career criminal children, but that didn’t stop the press from running with the tale, and Hollywood quickly followed suit. Since then the conniving, ice-cold matriarch lording over her psychopathic offspring has made appearances in everything from White Heat (1949) starring James Cagney to the old Adam West Batman TV series. And here we are again.
De Mornay gives a fine performance as the chilly mastermind of the gang of bank robbers, and her children are sufficiently unpredictable and evil. As I mentioned earlier, this path has been tread many times before, but the proceedings don’t feel as stale as they should. No, the protagonists (if you want to call them that) are what kill this feature.
Movies like Mother’s Day leave me with a seething hatred of the human race. The gang here enters the house outnumbered 2 to 1: Counting Mama Koffin there are five criminals, only two of which appear to be armed at any given one moment and one of which is practically unconscious from a gunshot wound. The victims consist of at least seven or eight perfectly healthy men and women. Early on one of the armed men leaves the house with a hostage in order to obtain cash, leaving only one healthy armed gangster with Mama Koffin and her meek unarmed daughter.
I point out all of this because the Koffins go out of their way to torture and humiliate their hostages, and these idiots just accept it with tear-stained faces. At one point Mama Koffin tells the group that one of the two engaged-to-be-married women in the room will be raped by her sons; she’ll make her choice based on who wins in a fistfight between the two husbands-to-be. The two morons end up nearly beating each other to death while the Koffins laugh. At another point one of the women escapes and Mama Koffin commands one of the male hostages to bring her back. What does he do? Why he chases her out into the middle of the street, beats her to a bloody pulp, and drags her back into the house before she can contact the authorities.
It’s not just that the protagonists here are passive. That would be understandable. The problem is that they are eager to be victimized. Time and time again the characters in this movie bicker and fight against each other instead of looking for a way out their situation.
Is this realistic behavior? Unfortunately, it probably is. But that doesn’t make the protagonists here any more sympathetic. We’re clearly meant to cheer the victims on as they finally sack up and begin to inflict violence upon the gang, but by the time this actually happens they’ve so thoroughly debased and humiliated themselves that it’s hard to feel anything for them other than contempt.
These aren’t human beings, they’re cattle. They probably all deserve to die; and I detest walking away from a movie with that morbid impression. However, I suspect that must be how director Bousman himself feels about the human race in order to spend so much of his life making movies in which personality-free meat sacks are casually mutilated by sadistic monsters.
By the end of Mother’s Day I wanted the bad guys to win. Say what you will about Mama Koffin and her maladjusted children, at least they share a sense of community.