The inter-dependable relationship between mothers and their sons has been explored throughout horror for decades. From Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” the 1960 landmark film which left an indelible mark on cinema forever, right up to the recent “Daniel Isn’t Real” which sought to explore the link between mother and son and more specifically, mental illness, it’s clear that film has a lot to say on the subject. M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters shares some of the DNA of both these films and collectively they all go beyond surface exploration by highlighting the lasting impact that mental health can have upon individuals, the family unit and to outsiders. As the mother in the film will say, “My greatest fear is that Jacob will hurt someone else.”
On the surface, what we are presented with is the story of Abigail (Melinda Page Hamilton, “God Bless America”), a single mother who suspects her teenage son Jacob (Bailey Edwards, “My Dead Boyfriend”) is on the verge of committing a high school massacre, but underneath this is the possibility of Abigail as unreliable narrator — are her assertions about Jacob based in truth or, in dealing with her own mental health problems, has everything become too much? In essence, this is the question that keeps us watching owing largely of course to the two central performances which are faultless. We begin to learn snippets about the pair which are told through characters using electronic devices that range from a mobile phone to secret security systems. Abigail quickly graduates from a handheld camera to a comprehensive four screen CCTV system which she installs in the privacy of her closet where she can watch and record her son undisturbed. We also hear throughout mention of Jerry, a connection to Jacob and Abigail that hovers ominously over both the past and present.
The film is weighted in Abigail’s favor as we learn that she has in fact been filming Jacob for most of his life and through this writer/director Tucia Lyman poses a further set of interesting questions about whether surveying those we love is justifiable simply because we care for them. It also reminds us of the important moral lesson that when we decide to pry into the lives of others, we might not necessarily like what we find. As things progress Abigail seems more and more absorbed in recording everything and in capturing all aspects of her life, even taking a camera to the local supermarket. Shut up tightly in the confines of her closest to where all her footage is streamed, she delivers monologues that intensify as she claims this is “doing it for the other mothers.” She even presents the audience with a threatening statement urging us to reflect on our own complicity: “If you are not a Mom with a troubled kid and you are watching this, then you are also a psychopath. Have some respect.”
The information we are given about Jacob feels purposefully chosen in order to echo the information fed to us by the media with regards to teenage shooters in order to push us closer to assuming his guilt. He has spent time in a diversion program, plays 5-6 hours a day on video games just “shooting people,” and has a pet lizard named Adolf. The question as to whether a high school shooter has a set of defining characteristics or not is further explored through Abigail’s admission that, “He doesn’t fit the profile” because he “Has friends, gets good grades.” Preoccupied with what is “normal behavior” Abigail overlooks the fact that there is no blueprint for those who cause such atrocities. Through the considerable amount of time we spend with Abigail (and importantly, alone without interference) we also hear that she has not been believed in the past when seeking help for Jacob and that her own mother has encouraged her to record everything that now takes place, casting a further shadow of doubt over her account.
M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters present us with conflicting information about the pair at its center which works to hold our attention and keep us on our feet in terms of who we can trust and what is the truth of any situation. The first time we see Jacob is as an infant, angelic and defenseless, it’s a smart choice to have this image as our introduction to him as it immediately evokes sympathy and contrasts with the assumption of him as the “monster” of the film. In the background we hear the voice of an irritated and frustrated parent Abigail who is seeking an explanation from her son for some misbehavior, thus their relationship is branded with tension right from the opening. We also see clips of footage of the infant Jacob sleeping as we hear Abigail say, “Sleeping Jacob is my favorite Jacob” which says enough to seem harmless (what parent hasn’t wished for some reprieve from their child) but also enough to make us consider what is it about this boy that makes his mother prefer him when he is asleep as opposed to awake?
As a teenager we see him come home and throw objects about the living room in an attempt to win back his confiscated PlayStation. The following morning Jacob emerges from his room to find Abigail asleep on the couch with an empty bottle of wine, evidence to support earlier claims he makes that his mother’s behavior towards him is a result of her drinking. However, as different as they might perceive themselves to be from one another, their mirrored reactions to Skype chats by closing the laptop shut abruptly and the macabre drawings they both sketched as children, suggests that perhaps Abigail and Jacob have more in common than they think.
Drawing on the ghosts of its predecessors, M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters is a modern take on the mother-son dynamic in that it exploits the collective fear that envelops the tragic phenomenon of high school shootings. In doing so, it relies on and subverts the preconceived notions we hold with regards to how indicators can work to fit a “profile” of those at risk of committing such acts in order to build a stomach sucking sense of dread. Melinda Page Hamilton has spoken about how “we are in a pervasive social crisis” and one of the film’s strengths is its ability to remain faithful and sensitive towards the issues it is uncovering. In never trying to push things too far or get carried away with being too clever it maintains a believability at all times which is the key to its effectiveness.