This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"Mother, May I? lacks the scare factor that horror hounds may crave, but will undeniably impress with it's script."
BY BECCA JOHNSON AUGUST 13, 2023
Directed by Laurence Vannicelli and starring Kyle Gallner (Jennifer's Body) and Holland Roden (Escape Room: Tournament of Champions), this new horror/thriller flick follows Emmett and Anya, a couple who plan to clean and flip Emmett's recently deceased mother's house. Anya believes this to be a good time for Emmett to deal with his trauma, as she thinks it's preventing him from being the partner she needs. During a night of taking mushrooms in order for Emmett to 'let go', something strange happens whilst they're tripping – she adopts the mannerisms, personality and language of his Mother. The next morning, when they wake up sober... she still won't drop the act. A slow burn with great performances and an intriguing premise, Mother, May I? lacks the scare factor that horror hounds may crave, but will undeniably impress with it's script.
Mother, May I? isn't your typical horror movie. It is an incredibly slow burn, built around conversations and atmosphere – this doesn't mean to say it isn't chilling. Anya adopting Emmett's mother's persona manages to send a shiver down your spine, as she becomes someone entirely different – someone cold, difficult and definitely not fun to be around. She sucks the life out of Emmett, and his fearful reaction to her increases the tension. There's obviously a lot of trauma there for his character, and as Anya becomes someone entirely different, as does Emmett.
The movie is based mostly in one location, the claustrophobia amping up the overall uneasiness and eerie tone. The most frightening element of Mother, May I? is easily the unknown – Emmett does not know whether Anya is playing a mean trick on him or has genuinely been possessed by his Mother's spirit, and as the audience, neither do we. It's mystery and thriller features work really well together to create chilling tension, a spooky atmosphere and a flick that inflicts a base level of terror despite not following the usual tropes.
For the creepy atmosphere and unsettling vibes to actually work, it must rely on it's two stars – two of the only characters in the movie, bar a couple of very small side performances. Luckily, Gallner and Roden both excel. The pair bounce off one another well to deliver the unique script, making us believe them at all times. Roden must be commended for pulling off what is essentially two characters in one film – she flips from one to the other effortlessly. Gallner expertly emits a remarkable sense of dread, confusion and fear, becoming the main source of horror throughout the run-time. The pair have previously shown flair within the horror genre, and it's great to see them act in something smaller, something that lets their abilities shine and really play around with their skills.
The script is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's subtly chilling, becoming what can only be described as a psychodrama. It features many small 'therapy sessions' between the two leads that allow them to tell each other how they're feeling in a role-playing fashion, to diffuse the tension and awkwardness. These scenes are often interesting, and allow our actors to shine. On the other hand, it's a very talky flick that doesn't offer much else apart from dialogue. Many won't enjoy it's approach as on the surface, nothing really happens. It's a mystery/thriller/drama/horror mash-up that doesn't push particularly far into any genre, offering up a few discussions that are perhaps more surface level than they should be, and nothing more. It's ambiguity is like marmite; some will love it, some will hate it. If you're a viewer who doesn't mind an ambiguous journey, you may get something out of this, but if you need the ends to be tied by the time the credits roll, look elsewhere.
Mother, May I? is an interesting take on the possession sub-genre of horror, offering up some nice visuals, a looming score, excellent lead performances and a script that although is occasionally dull, should be admired for it's edge and unique approach. Gallner and Roden are good, and it's worth seeing for them alone. It's ambiguous ending and lack of substance may not fit every viewer, but some will enjoy this flick for the conversation it offers.