Just when you think the found-footage format has run its course, a movie comes along that breathes a little life into the subgenre. In this case, Tucia Lyman’s M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters) shows the format can still work with the right concept and story. On the surface, Mothers of Monsters looks like We Need To Talk About Kevin with handheld cameras. Of course, the thematic similarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Past found-footage movies have proven that the format’s ‘docu-vibe’ can add a level of intensity when executed properly. And Lyman’s story promises more ambiguity in its exploration of the subject matter.
Single-mother Abbey Bell struggles with her teen son, Jacob. While most teens are challenging, Abbey is convinced that Jacob is a dangerous psychopath. As she becomes increasingly certain that her son is planning a school shooting, Abbey rigs their family home with several hidden cameras. She hopes to document her own struggles between a mother’s love for their son and fear for other mothers in similar position. Though Abbey’s footage seems to confirm her worst fears, it also hints that she may not be well herself. And when Jacob finds her cameras, he turns the tables on his mother in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.
Mothers of Monsters Wrings Out New Tension From Familiar Story
Horror fans are very familiar with the ‘Creepy Kids’ narrative. From Village of the Damned to Children of the Corn to British ‘chav’ thriller Lake Eden, youth-gone-wild are scary stuff for some adults. Writer and director Tucia Lyman mixes We Need To Talk to About Kevin with bits of The Bad Seed. What sets Mothers of Monsters apart from the thematically similar Kevin is Lyman’s story-telling structure and use of found-footage. First, Mothers of Monsters clears the hurdle for found-footage, offering a plausible rationale for Abbey’s constant filming and the resulting footage. And Lyman’s production experience in reality television becomes evident with how she unfolds her story.
…Lyman keeps her increasingly disturbing final act from going off the rails.
Though Mothers of Monsters tells its story from Abbey’s perspective, Lyman edits the ‘footage’ in an order that raises doubts her credibility. Stray comments here and there drop hints that Abbey herself may be unstable. References to a past tragedy involving her brother and Abbey’s own medication and penchant for drinking add ambiguity to the narrative. Audiences need to watch and listen closely. Pay particular attention to Abbey’s ‘gloves’ and her hands. However, Mothers of Monsters isn’t quite as clever with Jacob’s arc – things go exactly where you probably initially imagined. A bloated middle act also reduces some of Lyman’s previously earned tension. Fortunately, Lyman keeps her increasingly disturbing final act from going off the rails.
Both Principal Actors Turn in Compelling Performances
Ultimately, Mothers of Monsters lives and dies with its ‘mother and son’ performances. Ed Asner’s appearance in the movie doesn’t amount to more than a glorified cameo. As Abbey Bell, Melinda Page Hamilton aptly walks the movie’s required tightrope balancing her character’s conflicting emotions. Her performance adds the necessary ambiguity that fuels Lyman’s twisting story. At times, Hamilton is the desperate, exhausted, and frightened mother. But Hamilton also shows moments of the same callousness and disregard she attributes to her son. It’s these character ticks that help make the movie’s story work.
Her performance adds the necessary ambiguity that fuels Lyman’s twisting story.
Conversely, Bailey Edwards’ ‘Jacob’ never really presents as anything other than a cold, unlikable teen. This isn’t a problem with Edwards’ work in Mothers of Monsters. On the contrary, Edwards brings an intensity to his role that makes Jacob a frightening character. Rather Mothers of Monsters’ script never really convinces us that there isn’t something wrong with Jacob. To his credit, Edwards casts some doubt as to just how ‘rotten’ he is through his inflection, particularly in the movie’s final act. But Lyman saddles Jacob immediately with some despicable traits that are hard to dispute.
Mothers of Monsters Proof There’s Still Horror in Found Footage
Apparently, there’s still some scares to be found in the found-footage format. Lyman’s Mothers of Monsters isn’t a horror movie, but its subject matter disturbs as it slowly gets under your skin. What could have been a generic found-footage entry or, worse, an exploitative youth ‘super-predator’ movie, proves to be much more clever. Lyman’s story-telling structure and use of ambiguity add unexpected layers to Mothers of Monsters. Yes, the movie loses some urgency with a middle act that drags. And the final act threatens to go too over-the-top. But Lyman reigns things in and turns in a movie that lingers with you.