Review by Sarah Williams
M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters) is a scarily timely thriller. Taking found footage deep within our reality, it makes the already scary mass shootings in American schools into horror. Unlike other supposedly socially relevant thrillers of recent years, like The Hunt, the news is made personal enough that the fear factor is strong.
A single mother, Abbey (Melinda Page Hamilton), suspects her teenage son (Bailey Edwards) is plotting a school shooting, but when the system does nothing to listen to her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands. After installing an elaborate spy camera system in their home, Abbey captures a series of disturbing videos that confirm her worst fears of what her son is plotting.
Torn between a mother's unconditional love and the need to do the right thing, Abbey caters her videos to all the other "mothers of monsters" online. Her plan backfires when her son Jacob brings out the family secrets, and the two enter into a game of deception and trying to stay one step ahead of the other. It's a competition between predator and prey, where the prey is a young wannabe killer.
The themes of mothers fearing what their own sons can do is best known in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which features a powerful performance by Tilda Swinton as she watches her son devolve even further into psychopathy. There's no real way to stop what's happening, and the film knows that, and it's instead just a reflection instead of horror with solution. “From its inception, this was not a film intended to offer concrete solutions or resolve,” says director Tucia Lyman. “It is a real-life horror and a true reflection of violence in today’s society."
The film does a good job of not demonizing mental illness. It acknowledges what the kids are doing is individual cases with some commonalities, but not one underlying source or affliction. The solidarity between mother's dealing with trying to stop their children is one we often don't realize can come from these times of violence, but it shows that the root problem is at least known.
Often, the families are blamed for the horrific actions of their children. This is often what damages them, but is not always the case. Young boys especially are often radicalized online by groups exploiting the fearful anger of our recent generations, and those who are vulnerable or less seated in their morals are dangerously easy to derail this way. The mothers we see are not at fault for the most part, instead trying to figure out what had gone so wrong with their offspring.
The reason why popular found footage horrors like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project lies in their believability. These leave our actors with what looks to be genuine fear, and we actually feel like we are watching real people in danger. The thematic elements of M.O.M. are so close to the very real fears we have as a society, so it is all the more believable for it.
Found footage is often mischaracterized as an easy genre to make, because at-home equipment can be used while still fitting with the themes, but doing it well is another story. The webcam aspect is used wonderfully and it really feels like we are about to witness the real event. The cameras hidden to catch Jacob are very well utilized to feel like a real investigation, and this vigilante horror plays on real fears perfectly.
M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters) is now playing in theaters.
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