Starring Melinda Page Hamilton, Bailey Edwards, Edward Asner
Directed by Tucia Lyman
Written by Tucia Lyman
Like a cross between We Need to Talk About Kevin and the severely underrated (and highly recommended) The Dirties, M.O.M. (or “MOTHERS OF MONSTERS”) is a found-footage flick with an interesting hook that unfortunately depletes its reserve of ideas by the conclusion of the second act.
Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton) is a struggling single mother on the brink of a mental breakdown (or possibly, well beyond one) due to the aberrant inclinations of her teenage son Jacob (Bailey Edwards). Since Jacob’s childhood, Abbey has witnessed her son’s gradual metamorphosis from unassuming problem child to something far more sinister and uncontrollable. What she hoped might be the typical growing pains of a rascally tyke gradually evolved into that of a manipulative and abusive young man constantly on the verge of a violent outburst. Fearing Jacob and his potential for pandemonium, Abbey begins secretly recording him as well as her own vituperative diary of suffering.
I’m always skeptical when it comes to agenda-driven narratives and M.O.M. is definitely striving to set word of mouth on fire with its heavy-handed concerns that seem culled from a CNN playlist of “white guy warning signs”. When Jacob’s not lashing out (verbally or physically) for anything that flips his prick-switch, he’s spending time with his lizard named “Adolph” (get it?), screwing around with swastika-stickered memorabilia (like the rad poster’s gas mask) and watching footage of the 2017 Charlottesville, VA riots (fully equipped with dubbed audio from the filmmakers to further emphasize their objectives herein). Writer/director Tucia Lyman is obviously angry at many a current event(s) and her depiction of Jacob embodies such vexation. He’s a villainous caricature; a punching bag for current culture’s woes. While two particularly brief moments attempt to show some sort of humanity behind his visage of corruption, Jacob is simply an arc-less evil created to be hated. There’s no insight into him, there’s no development, there’s no reasoning given beyond skin-deep remarks referencing an absent father, possible negative effects of heredity/family and, well, not a whole lot else. For a movie attempting to initiate a social discussion, one can only scrutinize so much when there’s little meat to actually dissect.
When not focused on Jacob’s tirades, M.O.M. follows the exploits of Abbey and her attempts to not only communicate with him, but uncover the malicious plans he may or may not be hiding behind a caution-taped door in his room. Melinda Page Hamilton is believable as a hopeless mother attempting to bridge the gap between she and her offspring, but the script’s occasional insistence that she also be viewed as a “badass” comes off as laughable. Grumbled line’s like “The boy who cried wolf, got eaten by the fuckin’ wolf.” are just cringey and lack the power they’re supposed to have. These moments feel less like a mother hoping to help her son and more like a detached avenging angel yearning to right the wrongs of a society gone mad. Her exploits unearth further on-the-nose topics like the 2017 Vegas shooting and the purchase ethics of guns and their accompanying bump stocks. It’s all thematically contemporary but come off as forcefully injected.
For all of its ideological force-feeding, M.O.M. does retain watchability due to its compellingly dark subject matter and the sympathetic portrayal of Abbey herself. She’s a depressed and emotionally wounded matriarch with little resource other than her own inclinations. For the first two acts, M.O.M. presents a paranoia-driven plot that interestingly escalates Jacob’s cruel nature one recording at a time (not to mention a particularly annoying sound heard early on that’s ultimately used to great effect), but the film’s inevitable climax is a dearth of either weight or revelation (and even seemed to take some inspiration from the grisly coming-of-age film Found—albeit without the gory perversion).
Due to how it’s presented, there isn’t much in the way of surprise beyond seeing how chasmic Jacob can plunge himself into depravity, and equally, how much a mother can tolerate before she separates maternal instinct from survival instinct. There are some clever concepts herein but the themes themselves are very surface-level due to the regurgitated way in which they’ve been presented. Lyman hasn’t brought anything new to the discourse, but simply created a cinematic soundboard for the daily diatribes of mass-media to be repeated.
As far as mockumentaries go, M.O.M. wins points for the occasional spark of ingenuity but doesn’t do enough with the material so as to ensure its remembered once the next quickly-produced, socially relevant horror film rolls off of the conveyor (and I think I can see about five more coming my way now). Where the aforementioned film The Dirties is one of the most complex, frightening and human depictions of a found-footage shooter, M.O.M. is a heat-of-the-moment anecdote of outrage without answers. But sometimes, maybe that’s what’s needed.