Directed by Craig David Wallace
Screenplay by Ian Malone and Craig David Wallace
Starring Lora Burke, Tessa Kozma, Kristen McCulloch, Nick Smyth
The deep dark of the woods. Two women alone. Isolated in the quiet.
In the new thriller, “Motherly”, something most definitely will go bump in the night.
Kate (Lora Burke) wants to give her now nine-year-old daughter Beth (Tessa Kozma) a good birthday, but the two are in a secluded house, as they are part of the witness protection program. Kate gave testimony against her husband, who was tried and convicted of murdering a young girl.
Rebellious and bratty Beth seems to want to make the situation worse. She plays inappropriate practical “jokes” that crush her mother’s already unstable spirit. (Her “games” will play to her and her mother’s favor later in the film). Kate is dealing with the betrayal of her husband and with a policeman (Colin Paradine) who is not the emotional and sexual crutch she imagined he would be.
To add real world insult to emotional injury, the murdered girl’s understandably unhinged parents (Kristen McCulloch and Nick Smyth) show up to harass and terrorize Kate and Beth.
The father has been relentlessly combing the evidence and is convinced it was Kate who murdered his little girl. He and his wife believe Kate framed her husband and they want to get a confession, by any violent and torturous mean necessary.
Kate steps up and does everything in her power to protect her and Beth as things get increasingly brutal and life-threatening.
Directed and co-written (with Ian Malone) by Craig David Wallace, “Motherly” this is a tight little piece that overcomes the fact that these types of films have been a dime a dozen over the last 70-or more years.
Burke and Koza give very good performances, as Wallace makes every moment hit with unrelenting intensity.
Co-written by Wallace and Ian Malone, the film keeps a tight focus on the psychological cat and mouse games played by the victims and their tormentors. Boundaries and expectations are pushed to their limits in the filmmakers’ relentless telling of how far one will go to protect their family.
Drama and violence are balanced quite nicely by Wallace’s confident filmmaking. Each moment of character-building domestic drama works to the favor of the mother’s desperation against the relentless brutality of the attacking couple.
Kate’s past is murky, as is the sheer viciousness of the dead girl’s parents. That the screenplay gets the audience to question its own allegiances midway through is a surprise. We know who to root for on surface levels, yet Malone and Wallace’s script is smart and just a bit morbidly playful. The film toys with the tropes of the home invasion genre of horror/thrillers. It is a shrewd screenplay matched with equally skilled direction.
Wallace shows major creativity as a filmmaker here. Cinematographer Christoph Benfey works closely with his director to maintain the unnerving mood. The camerawork is not flashy, but it guides both the drama and the impending terrors that Kate and Beth are facing.
Any genre fan knows the ins and outs of home invasion thrillers. While the surface level might not be new, what Wallace does is to shatter our expectations through his examinations of the mother/daughter dynamic and the film’s central mystery.
It is difficult to trick and audience these days. It is even harder to keep them guessing. Wallace’s film succeeds at both, making this one a standout. His work for this piece is more Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” than “Don’t Breathe”. There is more here than meets the eye.
A compelling mystery, interesting characters, two excellent lead performances, and some intense and thrilling moments make “Motherly” a taught thriller with elements of horror that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat.
NR, 80 Minutes, Federgreen Entertainment, Falcon Films