2020 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Melinda Page Hamilton, Bailey Edwards | written & directed by Tucia Lyman | 1 hr 38 mins |

It seems like the found footage genre finally died. Hollywood ran it into the ground, used it up and tossed it to the curb like they would an old actress. It also seems like the scraps were picked up by indie filmmakers to mine through it for creative possibilities (Trollhunter, Creep 2 also come to mind). The appallingly titled M.O.M. Mother of Monsters (which sounds like a Winds of Winter book) is a found footage movie that drops us into the stressed-out life of Abbey (TV veteran Melinda Page Hamilton), a single mother who has picked up an arsenal of hidden cameras and planted them all over the house to document the way her violent, brooding teenage son Jacob (Bailey Edwards) treats her behind closed doors. Abbey is convinced he’s becoming a psychopath and a future school shooter.

The way MOM opens is kind of jarring. From the very beginning Abbey is so cynical and paranoid that her son is up to something before we see him do anything that she seems like the villain. From her closed circuit command center hidden inside her closet she muses about whether his violent video games and pet lizard are signs that he’s abnormal. One day while he is at school she takes away his Playstation and devises an agreement with him to talk – just talk – for 15 minutes a day, a plan that drives the rest of the story. She tells the camera, presumably to mothers listening out there (though it’s unclear how this footage would get out) “if you can still talk to your son, talk to him before he starts to hate you”. It’s a small but effective film, mostly a cat-and-mouse game between mother and son, with a few other characters tossed in for a bit – Jacob’s girlfriend’s camera shows us a more charming persona when with her, Abbey’s mother and the school science teacher. All hoodwinked by Jacob. Oh, and Ed Asner is in it for about 2 minutes as a therapist on a video call. He didn’t even have to get out of his chair and report to set. The perfect gig to get a big name on the promo material.

The performances are not particularly good here, though I’m not quite sure if it’s the material as well as a by product of the found footage style. Some of the dialog sounds stagey and forced, the performances a bit off. The best thing writer/director/TV producer Tucia Lyman does here is the push-and-pull of the relationship between mother and son. The movie gets to how a mother can feel their son is a growing danger to society but still love them and still be quite unable to do something about it, hoping that next thing will be the one that turns it around before or until it’s too late. Conversely, we get to see Jacob’s apparent hate for his mother in a different, sweeter, light when nobody is looking.

Jacob is built up to be a real threat and there is some tension here as his mom sneaks around trying not to get caught by the dangerously smart teen. Most notably, the found footage format doesn’t feel like it detracts from the story here. It weaves in pretty seamlessly, particularly in the finale when mother and son can only communicate through video. The third act is going to be divisive, the movie leaps enthusiastically into full-blown theatrical, campy monologuing villain mode. At this point Hamilton cranks up the melodrama and Edwards plays Jacob like a cross between Stewart the Skid from Letterkenny and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. It’s nutso – but after watching so many found footage movies sputter out into nothing in the final reel I was totally into it.

As pure found footage, psycho exploitation, M.O.M. works. It does a solid job of not just outlining this mother/son relationship, but creating the sense that this is just the tip of an epic iceberg of mothers struggling to reconcile their love for ticking time bomb children all over the country. It’s when it tries to turn that atmosphere into a point that it falters. The movie tells a story of poetic insanity, Abbey is very worried she has actually passed this onto her son based on her brother’s history, that she, in fact, might also be a big psychotic. Then it wants to get political and try to say both that some kids are just born like this – a We Need to Talk About Kevin story – and that violence is a conglomeration of video games, movies, Nazis and guns – a Gus Van Sant’s Elephant story. It’s final heavy hand on school shootings is particularly odd because there isn’t a single gun in this movie.

This thing is a totally silly, slap-dash little amature movie not to be taken as seriously as it thinks it should be, but I was entertained by it. It’s unique as horror movies go. This type of story works so much better for a fond footage movie than a ghost story. It’s a relief.

Happy Mother’s Day!