The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MOTHER, MAY I? | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MOTHER, MAY I?

Mother, May I? review
A young man is disturbed when his fiancée adopts the persona of his late mother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Laurence Vannicelli

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Holland Roden, Chris Mulkey, Daphne Gaines

Mother, May I? poster

Writer/director Laurence Vannicelli's Mother, May I? boasts a premise so ripe for both horror and black comedy that it's amazing it hasn't been utilised before (at least to my knowledge). It's about a young man whose fiancée appears to have become possessed by the spirit of his recently deceased mother. Eek! There are two ways to play this oedipal nightmare: for its implicit horror or for dark comedy. Vannicelli tries to pull off both approaches, and he's successful for a while, but as the film unspools it begins to lose sight of the potential of its premise.

Mother, May I? review

Mother, May I? has been marketed primarily as a horror movie, and it stars one of the current faces of the genre in Kyle Gallner, an actor who started out in the mainstream teen horrors of the 2000s and is now a fixture of the indie horror scene. He plays Emmett, who inherits the isolated upstate New York home of his mother Tracy when she passes unexpectedly. Abandoned by Tracy as a young boy, Emmett has no love for his mom and plans to sell off the house as quickly as possible.

He travels there with his fiancée Anya (Holland Roden) in tow. Anya has some mommy issues of her own, living in the shadow of her psycho-analyst mother, whose therapy tricks she implements in her relationship with Emmett whenever a problem crops up. This involves a game called "chair reversal," which sees Emmett and Anya impersonate the other and explain what they believe is currently bugging their other half.

Mother, May I? review

As Emmett is filled with stress from returning to his childhood home, Anya suggests they take some shrooms. The following morning Emmett wakes with a dose of the munchies, but Anya is in far worse condition. When Emmett returns from town with bagels, he finds Anya is dressed in his dead mother's clothes. She's also smoking (something she avoided due to their attempts to conceive a child) and affecting Tracy's mannerisms, right down to copying her handwriting in a journal. She even displays an ability to swim, which Anya was previously incapable of.

Is Anya winding up Emmett or has she become possessed by Tracy? In its attempt to keep things ambiguous, the film itself doesn't seem too clear on this point. It's certainly shot and scored like a horror movie, all slow zooms, shadowy figures appearing in dreams and cello strings plucked on the soundtrack. It's difficult to read it any other way than a case of possession, but Anya's reaction when she snaps out of her Tracy persona is oddly calm. It takes a little too long for Emmett to begin to question if something supernatural is at play, given how much evidence points to this being the case. For much of the movie he treats Anya's behaviour as a mere annoyance, the way my mates treat me when I pull out my Walter Brennan impersonation after a few too many drinks. At a certain point you may begin to wonder if the film is headed for a Gaslight style twist, but the actual ending offers little resolution.

Mother, May I? review

Gallner and Roden are both excellent, particularly the latter in how smoothly she transitions between Anya and Tracy. As Tracy she uses subtle shifts in physicality like a straightened posture to pull off the idea that we're watching a woman who is a product of a very different era than Anya. It's easy to see why Gallner and Roden took the roles as the film is something of an actor's dream, giving them both so much to sink their teeth into. For the audience however it too often resembles a series of improv exercises, particularly the "chair reversal" scenes, which are used as a shortcut to deliver backstory. Considering the central premise, Mother, May I? never quite manages to creep us out as effectively as that striking setup might suggest.

Mother, May I?
 is on UK/ROI VOD from August 21st.

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