Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Mother's Rage (Helios Productions, Pokeprod, FishCorb Films, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

A Mother’s Rage — ballyhooed as a “world premiere” on Lifetime last night — turned out to be a quite good thriller if you could ignore the sheer preposterousness of the basic storyline. Directed with a genuine flair for suspense by Oren Kaplan based on a story by Shane Mathers and a script by a committee (Mathers, Frederick Cipoletti, Ron Dobson and Alejandro Salomon), it opens with a scene in which relentlessly overprotective single mother Rebecca Mayer (Lori Loughlin) is driving her daughter Conner (Jordan Hinson) to Wheatley University for her first day in college. While Mom is at a gas station she spies a rather sleazy character — tall, shabbily dressed, bearded — cruising her daughter as Conner waits in the car. The man is Kelly (Christopher Backus) and he’s both a car thief and a white slaver; he chases Rebecca’s BMW and freaks her out so much that she first tries to evade his pursuit, then has her daughter get out of the car in the middle of a cornfield (wouldn’t that make her more vulnerable?) while she tries to get the police, only she can’t because the only way she has of reaching them is her daughter’s cell phone, whose battery has run down. Eventually Kelly ambushes her, blocks her path, kidnaps her, commandeers the BMW and says he’s going to sell them both, the car to the car thieves he’s working for and Rebecca herself to white slavers, or what used to be called white slavers — “human traffickers” is the term of art now. Only Rebecca manages to get free of the white rope with which Kelly has bound her and uses it to strangle him to death.

The first commercial break falls here, and then comes a scene so far removed from what we’ve been watching at first it seems like Lifetime mistakenly started showing part of a different movie instead: small-town sheriff Emily Tobin (Kristen Dalton) is chewing out her daughter Molly (Alix Elizabeth Gitter) for having started cutting classes and letting her grades go down when she does attend school. It turns out Molly is doing this because she’d rather play Number One Offspring to her mom’s Charlie Chan and help her with her cases — she also seems to have decided she wants to follow in mom’s footsteps and make law enforcement her career, and for some reason the writing committee never quite explains, mom is against this. Emily’s passions are her daughter and solving cases before the state police takes them away from her department. Her deputies find Kelly’s corpse and she determines to get the case solved before the state police show up — which they duly do in the person of a quite hunky officer named Lance Jonson (Matt Corboy), and we detect a burgeoning — or at least potential — romantic interest between the two even though the writing committee doesn’t get around to nailing that one down until the very end. The link between the two story threads is [surprise!] that Rebecca Mayer is really a mental patient who was hospitalized following a breakdown after the murder of her daughter Conner two years earlier, and who freaks out anew on the anniversary of the killing. Neither Emily’s department nor the state police were ever able to solve the crime, though for some reason they assumed it was “gang-related” (this is a rural area where it’s hard to believe gangs would be a problem!), but it turns out that though Rebecca, Kelly and the BMW are real (it belonged to one of the doctors at the mental hospital and Rebecca stole it from the parking lot so she could make her escape), most of what we saw during the opening act was only in Rebecca’s imagination — and her madness causes her to fantasize that her daughter is still alive and needs her help to arrive safely at her first day in college. Rebecca seduces a short-order cook and then suddenly turns against him, shooting him first in the balls to make him suffer and then in the chest to make him dead.

Then she’s picked up by a nice-looking, unassuming young man named Calvin (Shaun Sipos), and the writers lead us up the garden path by making us believe that he’s just a student hitchhiking to Wheatley for his first day in school, until he overpowers Rebecca, ties her up and turns out to be [double surprise!] the person who killed her daughter exactly two years to the day before. Emily and the state police trace him and we think she’s going to shoot Rebecca and set Calvin free — only she catches on to what’s happening and shoots Calvin just as he’s about to kill Rebecca by sawing her up with a surgical saw sans anaesthetic. The shock of having met her daughter’s murderer seems at the end to have snapped Rebecca back to sanity even though she’s obviously going to have to suffer some legal jeopardy from having killed two people on her spree — at least she’s finally aware at long last that her daughter is dead — and at the end Lance sort-of asks Emily for a date and she sort-of accepts. As preposterous as this story is, and as dependent as it is not only on outrageous coincidences but an overuse of the Hitchcockian gimmick (though others used it before he did) of showing events on screen that merely represent the lies or delusions of the characters rather than “real” events in the film’s story, this one is actually quite powerful and well-staged, and the parallel between Rebecca and Emily as single moms dealing with teenage daughters are made subtly but unmistakably, with Emily learning some lessons from Rebecca’s fate that will help her be a better parent (and that it was Molly who beat her mom to deducing the truth about the case certainly helps her credibility and helps Emily accept that her daughter wants to be a cop and she should support her instead of opposing her!).