M.O.M. MOTHERS OF MONSTERS ** USA 2020 Dir: Tucia Lyman. 98 mins
Following straight forward thrillers like SEARCHING and supernatural horrors in the vein of the UNFRIENDED movies, this serious attempt at dramatizing America’s culture of youth gun violence unfolds via a laptop screen. Haunted by violent acts within her family when she was much younger, single mom Melinda Page Hamilton documents incidents of her now 16-year-old son Jacob (Bailey Edwards) “monstering out” while opening older video files on her computer. The signs aren’t good: childhood tantrums and goofy sub-JACKASS challenges escalate into mindless shoe vandalism and nurturing a lizard unhealthily named Adolf. Plus, he spends five or six hours a day playing violent videogames. Still, he has friends and seems to get on well at school, leading his mom to doubt her own perceptions even as his grim trajectory becomes ever more inevitable.
Documentarian-turned-filmmaker Tucia Lyman has good intentions of crafting a serious-minded character-driven piece using a now-familiar modern storytelling device, but it’s a heavy handed lament about the culture of violence. The themes are hammered home via channel hopping TV montages (Syrian airstrikes, Charlottesville images) and contrived use of Hamilton’s voiceover: “It’s not like he can get a gun right?” she asks aloud while spying on him wandering into an arms shop. Hamilton puts everything into the role of the self-doubting, paranoid mother, and delivers the inevitable BLAIR WITCH-inspired on-camera breakdown with convincing desperation, while Edwards boldly attempts to develop his character beyond the stereotypes fostered in the aftermath of Columbine. The tension ebbs and flows, however, and this overlong movie too often hits false notes, from an inauthentic video link with Hamilton’s therapist (Ed Asner) to a dramatically inert denouement torpedoed by unlikely dialogue exchanges: “Is this how you want your movie to end?!” In the found-footage sub-genre, the chilling HOME MOVIE was a more concise document of a budding psychopath – and, ultimately, this exists in the shadow of Lynne Ramsey’s thematically very similar, brilliantly written WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.
Review by Steven West