Emily Dwyer is a kindly old widow living in Los Angeles whose children are all grown up. Looking for a little companionship, and really just someone else to talk to, Emily offers one of her spare rooms for rent. Enter Nestor, a soft-spoken blind drifter, who claims he’s just looking for a place to call home. Of course, Emily lets him right in. But unfortunately for her, and the rest of LA, Nestor is much more dangerous than what he appears to be. Turns out, Nestor is a supernatural being that must sustain himself by eating the flesh of humans. One ill-timed chomp to the shoulder later and Emily is soon infected by the same blood craving affliction. But unlike Nestor, Emily isn’t all alone in the world. Her dutiful son Clay lives nearby and not only quickly notices the strange changes his mother seems to be going through, but also quickly figures out what’s going on. But now Clay has a serious predicament. How is he supposed to keep his now blood-thirsty mother alive without letting her untamable hunger loose on an unsuspecting city? I mean, sure the Los Angeles police force of the 90’s isn’t anything to be proud of, but even they have to do something when they realize their citizenry is literally being eaten to death.
Despite what some of the film’s various poster imagery may suggest, Mom is actually not about a kindly little old lady who turns into a werewolf. I know. I was disappointed too, but let’s just clear up that misconception right now. If you see that on a poster anywhere, that poster is lying to you. In fact, the film actually goes out of it’s way fairly early on NOT to give a name to whatever creatures these are supposed to be. In one scene Nestor himself simply just refers to them as “flesh eaters” and that whether you call them a “werewolf, vampire or ghoul, it’s all the same.” Which kinda sounds good on paper, but when you actually get to the implementation the film runs into a few problems. Because, while not bothering to define your monster does add a bit of mystery, it can also be a bit confusing. After all, if you don’t know what it is, how are you supposed to know how to deal with it? Thus becomes the conundrum of poor Clay Dwyer, and by association us, because we’re the ones who are supposed to be sitting through it.
In truth, the monsters in Mom are essentially a grab bag of various monster quirks that could fit everything and nothing, so Nestor wasn’t completely lying on that front. There is a transformation involved, but it’s in no way dog-like, because they clearly didn’t have the budget for something like that. Nor does it in any way involve the full moon, so she’s not a werewolf. She grows fangs, but it’s to consume her victims, not suck their blood. Plus, she has no weakness to sunlight, so she’s not a vampire either. She does come closest, I think, to matching the definition of a ghoul, but they’re known for only consuming dead bodies, not living breathing one’s that they have to run down. So that doesn’t wholly fit either. Even their weaknesses are a mystery. Nestor himself claims they’re unkillable, but one well aimed match proved that theory wrong. Yet when Emily has flames hurled her way some time later in the film, all she walks away with is a red, blotchy hand and an excuse that since Nestor was older the same rules don’t apply to her. Which is really just a crock of bull and merely script code for: we wanted to make things as frustrating and confusing for the viewer as possible. If that was their goal, I suppose they succeeded.
To further continue their crusade of confusion, some of the sites I browsed described the movie as a “horror comedy.” Which means I went into this film expecting something wildly different than what I got and walked away slightly disappointed by that descriptor. First no werewolves and then no laughs? Way to let me down, movie. Because, no, the movie is not at all played to be funny, not even unintentionally. There are no inside jokes, slapstick, or moments of self-awareness or irony. The closest it comes to comedy is watching a partially transformed Emily try to chase down a very confused undercover cop, and a couple of cringe-worthy puns dropped by the busty bar trollop (played by the delightful Stella Stevens). But a grand total of all of two scenes are not even remotely enough to claim the moniker of a ‘comedy.’ It’s just another way the movie went out of it’s way to lie to me, I guess.
As far as the story itself, Mom is rather unique as far as horror films go. While there is a fair share of attention paid to the brutality and mayhem caused by the monsters in the movie, the real focus of the film is really more centered on the relationship between Emily and her son, Clay. And really, that element is simultaneously the film’s strength and it’s weakness. On the one hand, you don’t really see too many horror films where the focus on the mother and son bond is so strong that the child literally allows the life that they’ve built for themselves to crash and burn, all for the sake of trying to prevent their mother from becoming a full-fledged monster. I mean, Clay pretty much goes out of his way to let people think he’s completely lost his mind, all in an effort to keep the city and his mother safe, and it’s really rather touching.
But on the other hand, focusing on that aspect of the movie really bogs down the film’s pacing. For the first half-hour or so, the film moves at a pretty good clip. We’re introduced to Nestor and Emily, we see him turn her into a “flesh eater,” and then we, and Clay, both watch in horror as Nestor teaches his new protege how to trick, kill and eat your victims. It’s actually a very solid beginning. But once Nestor gets dispatched, the movie ping-pongs between Clay’s own inner emotional drama surrounding how he can protect his mother, and the horror portions as Mom becomes more and more bloodthirsty, and as a result the pacing slows to a crawl. It’s really quite maddening, as there are several points in that slow-moving hour where it feels like the film could have ended, only for you to pause and realize that there’s still twenty minutes left to sit through. It doesn’t help that most of Clay’s solutions involve little more than locking his mother in her room and treating her insatiable need to feed as if it’s an adolescent tantrum brought on by the hormones of a petulant teenager. Having to sit through all that extreme awkwardness almost feels like an unfair endurance test.
For a movie clearly made on a budget they have a nice assortment of transformation phases at their disposal. So while the movie may not have had Spielberg-ian levels of cash, they did at least have some money to work with, though it’s really not going to be enough to keep most viewers entertained, especially during the slow final two-thirds of the film. While the prosthetics they used were nice, they’re only used in the first thirty-minutes, and then only briefly, likely so you wouldn’t notice all the tiny flaws in the rubber. After that point, most of the movie’s effects are limited to copious amounts of make-up, contacts, false teeth, and some severed body parts. It all looks good, to be sure, but it’s not anything that’s going to “wow” the viewer, either.
All in all, Mom is an interesting, though highly flawed film. It labels itself a horror movie, but it really feels more like a very convoluted allegory about how spiraling addiction can literally destroy an entire family. Which is a cool concept, I guess, and it really works, assuming that that’s what the filmmakers were going for. But either way, I just wish that two-thirds of it hadn’t ended up being so damn dull. Because the movie has a lot of interesting ideas to work with, and a lot of very good, believable performances in it to boot. It’s just that after a certain point the entertaining bits only came out in spurts and the movie stopped feeling fun and felt more like a chore that your mom gave you to do that you were dragging your feet to finish. It’s the kind of movie I want to like more than I do, because I can see the good in it. But just like in Mom, in the end whatever good that’s left just isn’t enough, and it’s probably best we just put it out of our misery before it goes out and hurts someone else. Maybe one day it’ll get resurrected and given a reboot that can fix some of it’s problems.
We can only hope.
Mom is available on a variety of streaming services.
Mom is also available on DVD, but it seems to be long out of print.