Abbey Bell is extremely worried about her teenage son, Jacob. Worried that Jacob, an intelligent boy with good grades and is a social magnet, is plotting a mass shooting at his school. After countless preemptive attempts to warn authorities and medical professionals of her suspicions of his psychopathic tendencies, Abbey begins recording a diary and setting up spy cameras inside the family home hoping to catch Jacob’s unpredictable and dangerous suggestions and threats on tape. The videos will also serve as blog fodder for other desperate mothers experiencing similar disturbing behavioral issues with their children. As the single mother and her son continue their at home war of bickering words and distraught suspicions, the maternal bond once shared between mother and son begins to deteriorate and evolve into unsurmountable distrust between each other; a distrust that has been simmering ever since Jacob was a toddler stemmed by Abbey’s dark family secret sheathed for many years until Jacob weaponizes it for his utmost survival against his concerned mother.
Before the coronavirus pandemic transformed powerful sovereign nations into panic-induced introverts wetting their pants at the first spray of a sneeze hitting their skin, news medias around the globe delectably ate up headlines of mass shootings as there would seem, at least for a good stretch, to be a sad and unfortunate mass shooting every single day. Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” derives from that fearful climate while also purposing another sub-topical issue of a parent’s position in that circumstance. Lyman tackles one fictional woman’s tale of internal turmoil as her directorial debut and the sophomore script of a feature film not in a documentary format, pivoting away from the “Untold Stories of the ER” and “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” junk food that consumes about 2/3’s of television comatose Americans. The “found footage” 2020 released psychological thriller is produced by Elain White and Austin Porter whom both have collaborated with Lyman in the past.
While not as sexily depicted and as authoritative as Emilia Clarke is depicted to be the Mother of Dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” New York City born Melinda Page Hamilton can surely sell a mother of a monster as Abbey Bell, vending sharply laid out doubts and uncertainties with a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence against her only child. The “Not Forgotten” actress quietly folds into herself as the submissively passive Abbey on a histrionics mission to out her son as a danger to society. Bailey Edwards commands a subversive and rebellious teenage Jacob Bell that can use his millennial powers to steamroll over his mother’s lack-of-assertive powers. This film will be Bailey’s first substantial co-staring venture, along with minor performances in “My Dead Boyfriend” starring Heather Graham and Netflix’s “Bright” with Will Smith, and who will subtly introduce Jacob as some white nationalist, gun enthusiasts who has a gas mask with a swastika insignia, first person shooter gear and video games, and scenes of him walking in front of gun shops. While Hamilton and Edwards dominate the majority of screen time, the short cast list rounds out with Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle, and a special appearance from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ed Asner as a behavioral doctor Skyping perspective therapy with Abbey. Does anyone believe a 91-year-old knows how to use a video chat? It’s a bit of a stretch….
“M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” throws caution to the wind embarking on a viewpoint of how far a mother will go to expose her child’s dissident and, potentially, deadly behavior. Lyman also digs deeper into the psyche of the mother and the child, sticking them with a ticking time bomb that is the heredity factor. Mental illness is a huge underlined theme that Lyman slips into the fold as signs of one person’s erratic behavior can be stemmed from the secrets of little known relatives and their seemingly destined out of control path can no way be influenced externally without reserving counseling, extenuating the age-old debate of nurture versus nature. Lyman’s storytelling smartly preserves an obscured aspect, cloaked by selective denial and tremendous paranoia, that becomes a catalyzing game changer of disturbing consequences. The narrative isn’t at all flawless with weak spots in the character structure that pigeonhole the roles to be stuck inside this cat and mouse cycling mindset between Abbey and Jacob. For instance, Abbey’s an obsessive, 24-hour recording zealot whose documenting never reveals anything else happening in Abbeys life, like work, friends, etc., whereas Jacob’s intermixed recordings with a female friend outside the contentious home reveal a life beyond his skirmish with this mother and his videogame shut-in habitat, but these recordings stick out awkwardly as much of the story’s is from Abbey’s perspective so how did Jacob’s casual conversation videography become a part of Abbey’s cautionary tale for other distraught mothers? Whether intentional or not to exhibit the imbalanced social complexities between Jacob and Abbey’s personal lives or lack thereof, Jacob’s exterior scenes course out of bounds, penalizing portions of the plot.
Become submersed in dark thoughts and monomania with Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hitting the digital HD VOD platforms soon after premiering at the Los Angeles Arena Cinelounge this past Friday the 13th through Indie Rights distribution. Since this is a theatrical and VOD title, there is no home video release to provide technical specs and assessments; this also includes no special features. “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hammers down the sociopolitical hot topics of mental illness, gun violence, and presumptive fear teeming in America with a spitting image and climate aware psychological thriller bristled with family dysfunction.
Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.