Monday, January 4, 2016

Don’t Wake Mommy (D Yeah Films, Marvista Entertainment, Lifetime, made 2015, released 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s fare was two Lifetime movies, one called Don’t Wake Mommy which had had its “world premiere” the night before, and another called Bad Sister which was having its “world premiere” last night. Don’t Wake Mommy was written and directed by one Chris Sivertson but followed the Christine Conradt formula so closely he (or she?) might as well have called it The Perfect New Mom. The gimmick is that Donna (Reagan Pasternak) and her husband, firefighter Brad (the genuinely hot Dean Geyer — at least Sivertson did not follow the usual Lifetime convention of casting good-looking men only as villains!), are about to have a baby girl, Ava. Meanwhile, Beth (Sara Rue, whose head shot shows her in a nurse’s uniform even though her character, though established as a nurse, isn’t shown working as one) is introduced threatening the married (to someone else) doctor who fathered her child-to-be, a boy named Robert. She, the doctor and his wife have a confrontation in which Beth takes out a large kitchen knife and threatens to kill either the other two or herself, but she eventually slinks away in frustration and logs on to a Web site for new mothers, where she and Donna meet. The two women ultimately meet face-to-face and become friends, and use each other as baby sitters as needed. Only, since Sivertson’s script has already established that Beth is crazy, we’re bracing ourselves for the eventual (and inevitable) scenes in which Beth starts manifesting her craziness around Donna and gets in the way of Donna, Brad and their kid.

She takes Donna out to lunch and gets Donna, a recovering alcoholic, to have a drink — and later she spikes her drink with oxycontin (she’s a recovering addict from that, too), and the drugs give Donna moments of forgetfulness, including one chilling scene in which she’s convinced she’s lost baby Ava and she and Brad finally find her locked in their car. Donna is convinced this is a sign of post-partum depression, while Brad is convinced she’s relapsing into her addictions and will pose a threat to their kid if things continue like this. Meanwhile, Donna’s friend Susan (Alex Essoe) starts investigating Beth and gets in touch with the doctor who was formerly her paramour and supposedly the father of her baby — only the doctor tells Susan (and us) that Beth is infertile and can’t have children. This is a bit of a cheat since we saw her visibly pregnant in the opening scene — were we supposed to believe she was wearing a prosthesis, or that this was one of those hysterical pregnancies (that’s actually the technical term for them) in which women not only form the delusion that they’re pregnant but get distended bellies, sore breasts, morning sickness and all the other indicia of pregnancy except a fetus in their wombs? One nice touch director/writer Sivertson pulled was having us meet Beth’s mother, who’s just as crazy as she is (a touch Mr./Ms. S. probably ripped off from Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and/or Psycho) and who has a “baby” of her own. We’re told that the “baby” is actually a high-tech doll called a “reborn” and it’s used for women who haven’t or can’t get pregnant (anymore) but nonetheless want the thrill of holding a newborn in their arms, one that, in the words of Johnny Marks’ song for Chuck Berry, “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “cries, sleeps, drinks and wets.”

At the end of the movie Beth kidnaps Ava and takes her to her mom’s place, where Donna traces her — in the meantime Beth has clubbed Susan to death when she caught Susan researching her background and about to expose her (that’s what being the Voice of Reason in a Lifetime movie gets you: the villainess clobbers you!), and Donna’s discovery of Susan’s body was what finally alerted her to Beth’s insanity — and Beth coolly informs her that both Ava and “her” baby Robert (whom Beth actually kidnapped from a neighbor couple) are now hers and Donna has proven herself to be an unfit mother and therefore doesn’t deserve a daughter. The two women have a fight in which Beth threatens to incapacitate Donna with an injectable drug — she’s already prepared the syringe, boasting that she knew how to do it because of her experience as a nurse — only Donna manages to get the upper hand and inject Beth with the drug instead, incapacitating her. There’s a chilling scene in which the effect of the drug unexpectedly wears off and Beth grabs for Donna’s leg — and just then the police arrive, take control of the situation, arrest Beth and recover both babies. There’s a final tag scene in which the couple from whom Beth kidnapped Robert gratefully receive him back, while Beth is shown in custody, clutching the “reborn” doll and cooing to it as if it were a real baby (yet another Lifetime ripoff of the ending of Psycho). Don’t Wake Mommy — a rather confusing title — is Lifetime at its most routine, a by-the-numbers psycho thriller in which Sara Rue doesn’t even achieve the appealingly chilly psychopathology of her predecessors in this sort of role (she makes Ashley Dulaney’s performance as the analogous character in The House Sitter look better by comparison than I thought Dulaney was when I watched that film) and the denouement is all too predictable — indeed, throughout this movie we’re anticipating each turn of the plot at least two commercial breaks ahead, evoking memories of Dwight Macdonald’s praise of the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon for keeping us a beat or two behind the director (the young John Huston, making his first film) instead of always ahead of him!