M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters), 2020.
Directed by Tucia Lyman.
Starring Melinda Page Hamilton, Bailey Edwards, Janet Ulrich Brooks, and Edward Asner.
A mother suspects her son of being a psychopath and to prevent him from committing a terrible atrocity, takes matters into her own hands.
I can imagine that many parents share the same worry about their children. What will they be when they grow up? Will they find happiness? Will be they be successful? And so on. However, I can also imagine that somewhere deep within the mind of every parent is that little voice that asks “what if grow up to do something evil?” It’s this fear that the basis for writer/director Tucia Lyman’s psychological found footage drama M.O.M.
Instead of a jump-scare laden horror film as so many of this genre are, M.O.M. takes a novel approach to the found footage sub-genre, instead opting to go for an approach more akin to a domestic drama. While we might not have much in the way of jump scares, what we get instead is an uncomfortable, tense atmosphere, as we are forced to watch arguments between Abbey and her son Jacob, often on the edge of our seats that it might erupt into violence at any moment, the viewer feeling like a guest trapped this dysfunctional pairs home and no matter how much we wish to leave.
What makes the film’s narrative so compelling, is that for much of the runtime, we are left doubting as to whether Abbey’s fears are borne out of genuine concern or whether she is perhaps projecting her anxieties and fears onto him. Jacob might be a psychopathic murderer in training or he could just be acting like a typical rebellious teenager. This sense of distrust toward Abbey due to her increasing paranoia is only heightened when are fed small pieces of information, such as a past trauma, that leaves the viewer us wondering it is Abbey that is the real psychopath. It’s a great approach that keeps the viewer in suspense, looking as if Abbey will be the one whose paranoia will lead her ultimately commit murder.
As Abbey, Melinda Page Hamilton’s gives a powerful and intense central performance, her seemingly perpetual exhaustion and stress being brought to life brilliantly with nuance and subtlety throughout. A scene in which Abbey tearfully breaks down talking about her past is an especially poignant scene that Hamilton delicately navigates, with her performance coming across as moving and heartfelt. An impressive feat giving that for a good portion of the runtime, Hamilton’s only co-star is the camera.
In the role of Jacob, the possible psychopath, Bailey Edwards’ performance is more of a mixed bag. In fairness, Edwards is solid throughout, with Jacob’s rebellious “f**k everyone cause I’m 16” attitude coming across as believable and genuinely loathsome, like that of a rebellious teen. It’s when the actor plays up the psychopathic traits of the character that he starts to lose points, overdoing things to appear more menacing but feeling less like a potential murderer and more like a cliched moustache-twirling villain.
While the film works well for the first two acts, the third act is where it starts to lose its shine. The sense of doubt and paranoia about kept you guessing throughout the first two acts is tossed out of the window as the film settles into a thriller like approach. While some might like this narrative shift, I personally didn’t care much for it, feeling that it took away the qualities that made the first two thirds so engaging in the first place.
Peppered throughout the film are background references to topical issues such as gun control, mental health issues and, interestingly, the 2017 Charlottesville riots, in what appears to be an attempt by the filmmakers to offer social commentary on these controversial and timely subjects. However, aside from a few moments in which the film zeroes in on them briefly, it doesn’t really devote enough focus on them to warrant their inclusion. If anything, the subtlety of the film’s handling of these issues is such that you could remove these references and it would make little change to the film’s overall impact.
M.O.M. is a mixed bag that that is likely to be a polarising one among viewers. On one hand, I appreciate writer/director Tucia Lyman for her novel take on the found footage genre, with the film boasting a terrific performance from Melinda Page Hamilton that holds the film together. However, the narrative shift in the final third and the slowing of the pace almost derails what was, up to that point, a rather engaging and fascinating film, with the scripts attempts at social commentary being perhaps too underhanded to even be noticed by more casual viewers.
Although, despite its flaws, I’d still give M.O.M. a cautious recommendation for those who are at least curious to see a fresh take on the well worn found footage genre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★