Mother, May I? (2023) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Mother, May I? (2023) Review

Horrorific content by n_degus on August 08th, 2023 | Movie Review | Slow Burn, Possession, Psychological, Thriller, Mystery, Dysfunctional Family

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It's about Emmett, who enters into a nightmarish game of therapy with his wife Anya, who has inexplicably taken on the persona of his estranged and recently-deceased mother.

Mother, May I? was directed by Laurence Vannicelli and stars Kyle Gallner (Smile, Ghosts of War, and The Cleanse), Holland Roden (Escape Room 2, No Escape), Chris Mulkey (Ouija House, Wolves at the Door, and The Levenger Tapes), Daphne Gaines, and Michael Giannone.

Mother, May I Review

Laurence Vannicelli's "Mother, May I?" is deliberately filled with complexity and purpose. This is because repressed trauma tends to be complex. The process of self-healing is complex. Overcoming profound grief, allowing oneself to accept things, and dealing with complicated relationships with parental figures are all intricate matters. "Mother, May I?" adheres to the framework of trauma horror, though it doesn't fully embrace the horror aspect. It avoids the predictable approach of using monsters to represent inner struggles or survival instincts that demand psychological explanations. Vannicelli employs therapy-related language as a weapon, uses role-playing as a manipulative tactic, and creates a captivating puzzle that doesn't necessarily provide all the answers.

Kyle Gallner and Holland Roden deliver exceptional performances as a couple from the city who are engaged and spend time in the countryside. Emmett (Gallner) inherits a rustic lakeside property from his mother, a woman he rarely discusses. Anya (Roden) joins Emmett intending to prepare the property for sale, experimenting with mind-altering mushrooms, and potentially helping Emmett confront his repressed traumas. However, when Anya starts behaving as if possessed by the spirit of Emmett's mother following the effects of the psychedelic mushrooms, Emmett's reality begins to crumble.

Vannicelli intentionally keeps "Mother, May I?" enshrouded in ambiguity to destabilize the narrative. The question of whether Emmett's deceased mother has taken over Anya's body or if Anya is partaking in an extended psychological experiment remains elusive. Hints of doors opening might be a simple draft or a ghostly presence, and the film deliberately avoids definitively confirming or refuting the existence of supernatural elements, presenting scenes that could be interpreted as daydreams, hallucinations, or visual aids for the audience. Cinematographer Craig Harmer skillfully frames eerie hints that hover just out of view, maintaining an intriguing balance between confirmation and ambiguity, all within a visually stunning composition. This approach might frustrate those seeking concrete explanations, but Vannicelli's reluctance to provide closure or absolute answers aligns with the film's sense of existential distress.

Above all, "Mother, May I?" serves as a platform for Gallner and Roden to display their acting prowess. Roden's transformation from a cultured urban poet to a cigarette-smoking former dancer goes beyond mere changes in wardrobe. Her physicality captures the essence of sophistication, harmonizing with her eloquent language and showcasing her versatility as she seamlessly portrays distinct personalities. Yet, she doesn't overshadow a deteriorating Gallner, who masterfully conveys the bewildered expressions of someone witnessing their entire reality unravel. Gallner's portrayal of a fiancé tormented by a woman who mimics his deceased mother evokes empathy and simmering anger solely through his expressive gaze. Gallner and Roden complement each other like a rich red wine paired with decadent chocolate infused with LSD, delving into the emotionally intricate cores of characters burdened by inherited emotional turmoil.

However, the whimsical journey through unraveling therapy methods does leave room for a more structured approach. While Gallner and Roden's performances are worth discussing extensively, they find themselves within a narrative that occasionally struggles due to its infatuation with insect symbolism and its emphasis on unresolved elements. Vannicelli's daring sometimes gets the best of him, a fact he likely anticipates. He confidently explores the contradictions in Anya's psychotherapy exercises, influenced by her credentialed mother, and Emmett's detachment from reality after experiencing gaslighting and emotionally charged confrontations—although this approach sometimes becomes overwhelming. "Mother, May I?" undergoes little effort to ground itself as the story progresses until a surprising finale that may serve as a warning or a selling point.

Worth Watching?

"Mother, May I?" is marked by authentic, raw, and fantastic performances that convey deep vulnerability. Vannicelli collaborates with his partner, producer, and choreographer Daisy Long to create an intense exploration of a relationship that feels like a hallucinogenic experience, filled with a persistent intensity that exorcises personal demons through genuine expressions. Gallner and Roden offer an independent masterclass in acting, bearing the weight of "Mother, May I?" on their shoulders. They fearlessly expose their characters' flaws, serving as the film's primary source of tension. The film is heartfelt, distressing, optimistic, and content in its intricate messiness—an attitude we could all aspire to embody.

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