How reliable of a narrator is Abbey? We see everything through her recordings, which are disturbingly intrusive and borderline-demented when one considers the meticulous planning that went into them. At one point, Abbey observes her son from inside their closet. Abbey regards Jacob like a test subject, akin to one of his rats, recording his behavior and drawing her own conclusions based on disconnected information. Unlike Tilda Swinton‘s grief-stricken mother in Ramsay’s aforementioned film, Abbey displays next-to-no affection for her son, even calling him a creep when recollecting a diaper incident.
Lyman raises tantalizing questions: Is it all Abbey’s psychosomatic projection? Is it genetics? Could it be the uber-violent video games Jacob plays several hours a day? Or the plethora of pills he’s taking? Perhaps her alleged drinking problem is to blame? Then, of course, there’s Jerry. “I never told him about Jerry,” Abbey confesses at one point. The less said about Jerry, the better.
“…bravo to Lyman for sustaining that level of immersion throughout the entire narrative.”
The filmmaker shows restraint and what comes close to virtuosity when helming the film’s more quiet sequences, which are its best and most intense. One standout scene involves Abbey hiding Jacob’s PlayStation from him. As 99% of the narrative is composed of close-ups of its two leads, much of the success hinges on their performances. Hamilton is utterly believable, holding us rapt with ambivalence. She could either be losing control of a verifiable monster or be deeply unstable herself. Bailey Edwards doesn’t quite one-up Ezra Miller’s troubled Kevin but pulls off both charisma and depraved darkness with aplomb.
It’s not all gravy, as is to be expected from a debut with such high aspirations, both visually and thematically. The editing is, at times, jarring and somewhat nonsensical. The footage cuts between different points of view in a way that would require an editor, which goes against the “raw clip snippet” structure. Ed Asner‘s brief appearance – on Skype! – as psychiatrist Dr. Howard Arden is distracting (it’s an unconventional choice for many reasons). Lyman loses her grasp on subtlety in the last 30 minutes, which involves a game of cat and mouse, a self-mutilation, electrocution, and a hanging.
It’s easy to overlook those flaws when the overall result is this memorable. “If you can still talk to your son, talk to him,” Abbey pleads. Manifesting and examining every parent’s worst fear, and bound to spark debate, this M.O.M. packs some acid with your lunch.
"…Manifesting and examining every parent’s worst fear, bound to spark debate, this M.O.M. will pack some acid with your lunch."