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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

Bold and Unique, Mother, May I? (2023) Is Psychological Horror for the Patient Viewer

Title: Mother, May I?

First Non-Festival Release: July 15, 2023 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)

Director: Laurence Vannicelli

Writer: Laurence Vannicelli

Runtime: 99 Minutes

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Holland Roden, Chris Mulkey

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here

Childhood trauma can linger and manifest later in life in the strangest and darkest of manners. Affecting anything from your thought patterns to your behaviors and even your future relationships with others.

This is true for Emmett (Kyle Gallner) and Anya (Holland Roden). On the precipice of marriage, the two find themselves hitting a snag in their relationship when they travel to Emmett’s recently deceased mother’s home to prepare it for auction. As the pair get to work packing, assessing, and fixing the place up, they find themselves uneased in the house. When what’s meant to be a therapeutic game goes wrong, Anya begins to act strangely like Emmett’s mother. As time goes on, he is less certain if Anya is playing a cruel joke on him or if his mother has truly possessed her.

Mother, May I? is a twisted, stripped-down take on 1970s psychological horror supported by compelling characters and excellent performances.

The chillingly simple premise of Mother, May I? breaks down over the course of an unpredictable weekend to examine how deep wounds can go. A modern day 70s chiller, this indie film delivers more on suspense than shock value. Stylistically, it is easy to see that Mother, May I? is hoping to create its own version of psychological horror from the earliest decade of the horror golden age. Its intimate setup of exposition heavy scenes with two people is laced with the implications of something far more real than what’s often offered up by horror films. Its isolated rural home shot at a distance beckons viewers back to a more grounded approach to supernatural terror that uses minimal effects and smaller moments to add up to a very special experience for patient viewers.

Deeply troubled in their own ways, Emmett and Anya make for a fascinating pair, which make the revelations about each other strike such a chord in the viewer upon completion of their tumultuous journey together. What’s scary isn’t that Emmett’s mother is haunting his childhood home but that she has found her way inside his fiancée after all these years. Thanks to Anya’s devotion to therapeutic games, Emmett’s assumption that she is taking things too far is valid but as the lines blur between reality and the supernatural, it gets harder to tell what is real. Their relationship seemed fine before they set foot in the house, but the cracks begin to show almost immediately revealing their true standing.

The psychological breakdown of its traumatized characters wouldn’t be nearly effective without Kyle Gallner and Holland Roden leading the helm. Gallner, known for his genre work, delivers an exceptional performance as Emmett. Grumpy yet willing to be vulnerable, Gallner imbues Emmett with a particular kind of grief that exudes from every moment he stonewalls Anya or refuses to dig deeper into his abandonment issues. Roden who hasn’t appeared in much genre work beyond her stellar six season run in “Teen Wolf” pulls double duty opposite Gallner. Her initial helpful, naïve, and softer expression as Anya is juxtaposed when the spirit of Emmett’s mother takes over, then Roden transforms. Condescending, harsh, and doting, Anya’s persona is fascinating to watch thanks wholly to Roden’s gutsy delivery. Together, the duo performs an elaborate dance of strong words and stronger actions that reveal who they really are.

Mostly devoid of traditional scares, what makes this indie film so powerful is the implications of horror laced throughout the film hinting at the ghosts of the past and specters of the future. Emmett’s abuse growing up leads to some debilitating self-doubt and a guarded heart. This makes it difficult for him to get closer to others, especially women as he found the one that he trusted most hurt him deeply through neglect and abuse. Anya also suffered as a child at the hands of her mother but in a different way. While general support was there, she never quite lived up to the expectations placed upon her. This leads to her trying to seek the love that was never given to her by any means necessary through her relationship with Emmett.

The dark co-dependency they have formed unspoken is shoved in their face over the course of the weekend, where they are forced to face the toxicity of their relationship and the unresolved trauma they have long left buried inside themselves. The commitment Mother, May I? takes to is it real/is it all in their head’s storyline leads to some heartbreaking realizations and haunting moments of human grief expressed by our leads.

Mother, May I? is not for everyone but for those who do stick with it will find themselves rewarded with a grounded psychological horror film that will leave them thirsty for more. Exceptional character work and performances by Gallner and Roden elevate the already creepy script to new heights. Despite the heaviness of the topics tackled, Mother, May I? remains a disturbing and engrossing watch that is full of beautiful moments of cinema. There’s no need to ask for permission for more, if it sounds up your alley get Mother, May I? on your watchlist immediately.

Overall Score? 8/10

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