By David Dent
At first glance, the title of Tucia Lyman’s powerful debut feature suggests a straight-ahead horror flick, but its true meaning only becomes apparent about halfway into the movie.
An extraordinary riff on Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,’ but with the lyrical abstraction of that movie replaced with the harsh look of closed-circuit TV footage, ‘M.O.M’ is entirely filmed on home surveillance cameras or utilising video material.
42-year-old single mum Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton, whose extensive TV CV serves her well for her role which is 98% closeups of her face) is living in Ohio with her 16-year-old son Jacob (a standout performance from Bailey Edwards). It’s their most recent home, following several moves necessitated by Jacob’s behaviour. That behaviour, we know, from footage we see of him as a young boy, fits the classic psychopath profile: cruelty to animals; lack of empathy; narcissism.
And in his teens, Jacob continues to show those tendencies – and more (an early disturbing scene sees him filmed dropping a brick onto a busy highway from a bridge citing ‘natural selection’ as the reason). But although Abbey has tried and failed to get the authorities to see Jacob for what he is, her own mental health issues mean that her version of events been called into question. Jacob remains at large in the community, but now with an added hatred of his mother.
And so in their latest home, as a last effort to be taken seriously, Abbey decides to rig up a network of CCTV cameras to record Jacob’s behaviour, and with a view to reaching out to other ‘mothers of monsters.’ But when Jacob finds out about the surveillance, he takes matters into his own hands.
‘M.O.M’ is a very tense, well-edited movie where the viewer’s sympathy constantly flits between mother and son, whose toxicity as a family is fuelled by Jacob’s growing strength and Abbey’s increasing inability to control him.
At times it’s a tough watch, and both Hamilton and Edwards are extraordinary in their roles. Lyman’s direction lifts the action out of any visual limitations of the ‘found footage’ genre while exploiting the claustrophobia of the format. It’s a cruel, raw film and a very impressive debut.