Witness protection isn’t enough to keep a mother and her young daughter safe, as the vigilantes hunting them down catch up to the pair. They want a confession the mother either can’t, or won’t, give and the location is so remote any help will be at least an hour away. There’s no obvious way out, but for the sake of her daughter, Kate needs to find some way to gain the upper hand.

There are several awkward elements about how Motherly (2021) starts, which continue to persist once the home invasion finally unfolds. Lora Burke as Kate begins pretty unlikeable, Tessa Kozma as her daughter Beth even less so – neither engaging personalities to charm the camera. There’s just something off about them that disrupts any connection with the characters. All of this pays off in hindsight, however, for a purpose – this pivoting the premise as a thriller that rewards attention to the details underneath all. Every odd behaviour becomes a retroactive clue in the finale, concluding with delivering a satisfying mystery to experience once the full scope is unveiled.

This isn’t too extreme of a film, although the implications are starkly dark by the conclusion. Violence is sparingly used, but it’s incorporated well for no jarring intrusion to an otherwise slow pace. Positively, the SFX for gore lingers just long enough to get your skin to crawl – graphic scenes are showcased quite well. The subject matter, a mystery hinged upon the murder of a child, is innately upsetting as a rather audacious idea – some subjects so taboo to cause sensitivity. This aspect fulfills the ‘Parental Anxiety’ horror trend extremely well, and will affect childcarers a lot more than other demographics – they’re hypervigilant to such an explored trope.

This is another case of a horror movie “playing possum”, it appears simple enough at first, but develops into something pretty grim and pleasantly surprising once wrapped up. It’s very genre aware and makes full use of several prevalent attributes of the thriller/horror genre. At times Motherly really leans into the familiar, doing solid work giving a great example of familiar tropes to push the plot forwards. But don’t get complacent, the team here knows what they’re doing with these familiar story beats and have some surprises in store. While overall this may not be a modern classic, it has a great chance to take off once it is picked up on a streaming platform since the sum total of these collected story beats should go down well with a general audience.

By the time the full mystery is revealed and the final twist has turned, you will have experienced a sharp subversion of now-familiar tropes to great effect. The main plot threads are a little too well obscured initially, which risks losing some viewers before it can truly get going, but stick with Motherly (2021) and you will be very well rewarded.

We watched Motherly (2021) as part of our Grimmfest coverage. The film will be available on Tubi from Feb 10th, 2023

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