There’s a self-seriousness to most contemporary horror remakes that’s authentically disgusting. Executive producers such as Michael Bay and Wes Craven raid the vaults for both classic and terrible horror movies alike in order to redo them with a mock seriousness that’s absurd when you consider the original films’ generally unassuming grass roots. It doesn’t matter to the filmmakers if the product being remade is great (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left) or poor (the original Mother’s Day)—all are subjected to the same bland, ugly treatment.
Most of the great horror films from the 1970s and 1980s, whether they transcended the label of exploitation or not, had a sense of play as well as a sense of perspective; there was no pretense, with few exceptions, of the filmmakers being after anything other than a few of your dollars. For that money, you got a night at the drive-in with your guy or girl and something to watch as you worked your way through a six-pack of PBR. But the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, among others, are too pretentious for that. Perhaps due to understandable self-consciousness of their lack of originality, the director of the American horror remake generally strives for an atmosphere of relentless, pummeling nihilism. You’re supposed to find this approach intense when it’s normally just unpleasant, boring, and sad.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman’s new Mother’s Day, which basically only borrows the original Charles Kaufman film’s title, might be the worst of the lot. It’s a gruesome, humorless film without a shred of invention or humanity that’s openly contemptuous of its heroes for their typical and forgivable middle-class foibles. Sure, they appear to be affluent, shallow, as well as blandly attractive, all in the poorly cast modern-horror-movie tradition, but those qualities hardly deserve the retributions that are visited upon them here at the hands of Mother (Rebecca De Mornay, unavoidably terrible), an infertile lunatic who crashes their party with the band of bank-robbing surrogate momma’s boys she’s kidnapped from hospitals over the years.
You know you’re in for an awful time when the momma’s boys, as played by Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole, and Matt O’Leary, are standard-issue baddies from the Ben Forster school of insufferably sweaty, facial-hairy overacting. Once the film settles into a home-invasion scenario that involves the gang trying to bully information on the whereabouts of stolen loot from one of the pampered husbands, Mother’s Day alternates between variations of two or three scenes: Mother makes a lame joke about boys and their manners; one of the lunatics tortures and/or kills one of the ostensible heroes; and an agonizingly prolonged escape attempt that goes hideously awry.
There’s a specific unpleasantness to the template of the home-invasion film anyway. For one of them to work, such as the terrifying and even gorier French film Inside, there has to be a certain amount of give and take. You have hope in Inside, for instance, that the hero might live, and she was allowed to display inventive tendencies that complemented the villain’s devious cunning. But in films like Hostage, which Mother’s Day occasionally resembles, the heroes have to be continually harassed and berated until enough running time has elapsed to pave the way for the climax that finally allows for some measure of comeuppance. A home-invasion film like Mother’s Day is elongated coitus interruptus.
Bousman, who perpetrated a number of the Saw movies, would appear to think he’s making a Rob Zombie film. At one point, the camera nervously swerves in and out of characters’ faces, and the soundtrack and score are intentionally reminiscent of the slow-building haywire mixtures of metal and Southern rock that characterize Zombie’s films. But the difference between a hack like Bousman and a real filmmaker like Zombie is worth distinguishing. Zombie’s films, as ugly as they can get, have an exhilarating moral force: His mixtape sensibility merges the aesthetic of the old Universal monster movies with the western and horror films of the 1970s to draw startling parallels to the chaos of the modern American landscape. And Zombie, despite what he’s been accused of, exhibits sympathy for most of his film’s victims.
Bousman merely unleashes a barrage of mindless shock tactics. A woman’s cheek is blown off by a sawed-off shotgun and you get to see doctors removing bits of bone and grit in an attempt to save her. Boiling water is poured over a man’s face and a woman’s head is briefly set on fire. All of the women are repeatedly threatened with rape, and the filmmakers dangerously appear to be complicit with Mother’s reasoning that they deserve such treatment for being suggestively dressed whores. And I lost count of the amount of instances of people being stabbed by various sharp objects in close-up, though the most disgusting example involves two teenage girls who’re forced by one of the killers at gunpoint to attack one another for sport (the girls are also implied to be shallow and vain, of course).
And after all that, Bousman and his screenwriters don’t even deign to give you a real ending, relying instead on a predictably open conclusion that actually may be unintentionally recalling Inside. The world of this Mother’s Day, like the world of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on the Left before it, is once again revealed to be a place of ugly, bottomless savagery—a sentiment that’s thankfully arrived just in time for Mother’s Day.