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Mother's Day / 11-11-11


Free from ‘Saw’ sequels, Darren Lynn Bousman broadens his range.

Rod Lott April 30th, 2012

Can director Darren Lynn Bousman survive in a post-Saw world? After the grating steampunk musical misfire Repo! The Genetic Opera, I would have said "no way," but my mindset has been reversed by Mother’s Day and, to a lesser degree, 11-11-11. Ironically, not only were both films denied anything beyond a blip of a theatrical release, but now — insult to injury — they have to compete against one another on home video.

mothersday

Produced in part by Brett Ratner and ostensibly a remake of a same-named piece of Troma trash from 1980, Mother’s Day is one of the better thrillers I’ve seen in recent memory, anchored by an honest-to-God great performance by Rebecca De Mornay as the mad matriarch of the title, as good as her celebrated comeback in 1992’s sleeper smash The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. The diabolical hold she has on her three sons and one daughter is disturbing, but we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.

Said sons make cake as interstate-roving bank robbers. When their latest crime results in one of them taking a shotgun blast to the torso, they head home for Mama’s help. They’ve been out of contact with their mother for so long that they don’t know she lost the house in foreclosure, so when they arrive, they take the abode’s new occupants (Jaime King and Patrick John Flueger of, respectively, the My Bloody Valentine and Footloose remakes) hostage, along with all their guests partying in the basement.

Moments of unflinching bloodshed ensue, as Mother and her children terrorize and/or torture the well-to-do homeowners. Yet the flick’s real grisliness doesn’t really rear its ugly head until the final third. For the events leading up to it, Bousman quite surprisingly relies more on building tension and suspense than, say, bashing in heads. Mother’s Day has more to it than satisfying the “gorno” set, whose members likely will be too bored to stick around for the parts — literally — that most appeal to them. Those who aren’t may be too invested in the story to not see it through to the end, even if only through small gaps between their fingers.

Far from perfect — with a kajillion endings; three brunette victims who look so similar, it’s tough to tell them apart; and obvious plot holes (do sanitation workers continue to do their job at night, especially when a killer tornado is on its way?) — the movie works quite well as solid escapist entertainment that reminds us of De Mornay’s talents and announces Bousman’s.



Meanwhile, the most shocking thing about 11-11-11 is that it’s rated PG-13 — a Bousman first. In this religion-tinged work of angels and demons (mostly the latter), soap actor Timothy Gibbs plays Joseph Crone, a writer of dime-store thrillers in deep mourning. Since the tragedy of losing his wife and child in a house fire, Joseph has lost belief in a higher power, as well as the belief that he serves any purpose. So strongly does he think this that when he survives a Nov. 8 car crash, he’s more than a little pissed he didn’t die.

He’s called to Barcelona to visit his estranged, dying father — a trip that does not allow him to escape the repeated popping up of the titular numbers. In fact, the Crone family’s Old World manse even heightens it, complete with images of ghosts and demons appearing on the grounds’ surveillance footage at 11:11 p.m. each night.

Joseph’s Internet research uncovers a fringe group called the 11ers, who believe in the existence of celestial beings between our world and theirs, prompting our hero to believe that on Nov. 11, Something Really Big and Bad is going to happen. This being a horror thriller, he’s correct, of course.

11-11-11 offers no surprises — that Bousman keeps reminding viewers of the impending date via booming title cards works not in the story’s favor. Since part of the fun of movies is that anything can happen at any time, this structure suggests that anything can happen only when the time is 11:11, and especially on Nov. 11. Until then, all’s well.

That said, the film is slickly produced and mildly engaging, like an old ghost story given a new, crisp, clean sheet with a higher thread count. Although the climax is timid in payoff, it’s bound to scare somebody, most likely those who take religious iconography very seriously. They may even watch it, as the movie arrives with neither sex nor profanity, nor gore. It’s about as clean as a horror film can get and not debut on ABC Family.

It’s further proof that Bousman can branch out, and I admire his work here even if it tastes a little diluted. —Rod Lott

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