As a rule, we’re not supposed to judge any artist by his art. Wes Craven, the man behind such brutal works as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, is not a brutal animal himself, but an intellectual who taught college English at one point. But it’s impossible for me not to think that down inside, Darren Lynn Bousman is a mean, dirty soul. He revels in mean, dirty acts in his movies, which are mean and dirty themselves. His MOTHER’S DAY remake fits perfectly into his cruel, grungy aesthetic. As a sensitive soul myself, I found it without a single redeeming quality.
Charles Kaufman’s original has lots of cruelty and violence itself. But it’s also got his brother Lloyd’s loopy attitude and verve, upon which the Troma way was built. The violence has a silliness to it that’s almost cartoonish, and Mother’s performance holds the whole whacky piece together. Bousman’s movie, however, is sheer cruelty. It’s on the nose, an exercise in torture that was torture for me to make it through. This film is basically unwatchable for anybody with any sensitivity, and I only made it through (over several nights, mind you) because I got a copy for review and felt bound to write on it.
Bousman’s setup is quite a bit different from Kaufman’s. As a group of affluent friends have a party, three criminals show up at the house. One has been wounded, and he’s going to die if not healed. It turns out the criminals think this is their mother’s house, unaware that she’s sold it. They quickly take the group of friends hostage, and call Mother and their sister to join them. There’s a bunch of money hidden somewhere in the house, and the family needs it to escape. Mother sends one of the wives off with a son to get some money, while she and the rest stay behind to seek out the money and hope the wounded son survives.
What follows is a catalogue of disgusting violence, torture and depravity. Tearing a toupee off a head, forcing two side characters into a SAW-like choice where one will die, an attempt at forced sex with the nearly dead wounded brother, penile mutilation, ear mutilation, hair and head mutilation, heads blown off, stabbings. The problem is, none of this is fun. Kaufman’s film has the borderline awful Troma gore effects, and had Bousman gone more in the direction of the Troma head crush, this could’ve at least been palatable. Instead, it’s an ode to ultra-violence and nihilism, without any substance beyond torture. The Marquis de Sade could have written this, and I wouldn’t have been surprised. I’d have to be a sadist to enjoy this, and maybe not even then. If his films are any indication of his personality, Bousman is a sadist at heart, and creates films for sadists.
At the center of the film is Rebecca De Mornay as Mother. As with everything else, her performance is on the nose, creating no depth or subtext. She must be at the point in her career where she really needs the money, because there’s no other way an even remotely name actress would’ve taken this role. She does provide the only worthwhile moment in the film, as she battles at the end of the film with a female character who lost a son. It’s Mother vs. mother, and it’s a pretty entertaining fight, if only because I wanted so badly to see an act of reprisal in which Mother gets her comeuppance. But Bousman even ruins that, with a coda so ridiculous that maybe he remembered he was remaking a Troma movie after all.
I hate the fact that the MOTHER’S DAY disc has a commentary, because that means I had to watch it twice. Bousman sits with actor Shawn Ashmore to discuss the film. The director states he adapted this film from Scott Milan’s script for a film called WITCHITA, and added in the Mother character. He thinks his cruel brother characters are “badass,” and he obviously enjoyed making the film. Bousman is one of those directors who wants to be so hip, it hurts. He glides through this chat as if he made a cool comedy instead of an ode to torture. And that disturbs me.
MOTHER’S DAY sat on the shelf for a long time, and I’m convinced it’s only seeing the light of day now to piggyback on the road show for Troma’s response piece, FATHER’S DAY. I’ll venture to say it’s been on ice for so long because it’s not really a film, so much as it’s a 2 hour catalogue of stomach churning torture with no redeeming value, and nothing to say. I’m not a sadist, so I will never enjoy a Darren Lynn Bousman film. If you’re a sadist, check this out. And by all means, if you see me in the street, avoid me at all costs. Please.