M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is the feature-debut of writer and director Tucia Lyman, having honed her craft in television for over a decade. Set in 2018, the film follows Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton, God Bless America) as the 40-something single parent of 16 year old Jacob (Bailey Edwards, Bright), struggling to cope with her son’s surly and erratic attitude. Abbey finds evidence that Jacob is planning a school shooting, and installs covert CCTV throughout the family home to monitor his behaviour. Initially this is to be passed to the authorities who have so far declined involvement with her concerns, but Abbey eventually begins posting the clips to an online support group for mothers in similar situations.
It’s this collated and edited video (with the addition of sequences from phones and laptops) that forms the presentation, a found-footage movie for an age of digital surveillance. Overall, the film is noncommittal as to who has assembled this final cut and through whose eyes the audience is watching, but it’s a smart move as Lyman is great at establishing and raising tension through a combination of fisheye lens claustrophobia and uncomfortably long scenes.
Melinda Page Hamilton and Bailey Edwards give very strong performances in their primary roles, bolstered by a small cast earnestly playing friends, family members and counsellors. Most notable among these is the near-legendary Ed Asner, literally
phoning Skyping in a single scene which feels for all the world like a favour being done to secure a high-profile name for the DVD cover.
The support-group background allows for a lot of to-camera explanation of behavioural tendencies that would otherwise seem clunky, yet there’s still a disconnect between the dialogue feeling heavily scripted and a visual style that leans on realism. Found-footage may not be an original methodology, but it’s probably for the best; had this been shot and assembled as a traditional thriller, the whole thing would have the air of a daytime TV movie.
As it develops, M.O.M. becomes less about adolescent criminal psychology and more the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her son, a study of PTSD as secrets are slowly uncovered. References to self-harm and suicide follow the thematic drift of the screenplay but are in danger of seeming exploitative. As Jacob cycles through teenage irritability, conspiracy theories, sadism and outright racism, the portrayal of heavyweight subject-matter borders on cliché, but the conviction of the cast pulls it back. Just.
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For its small scale, this is a bold production with plenty to admire. Tight editing and a punchy 98 minute runtime work in its favour, yet it becomes increasingly unclear where the focus of the story actually lies. The film doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions when it comes to being morally provocative; not claiming to hold all the answers, while seeming to forget what questions were being asked to begin with. M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is interesting. But with issues this emotive, interesting isn’t quite enough…
M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is available on VOD from 13th March.