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Mother, May I?


‘…a demanding, but rewarding psychodrama that plays with some traditional horror ideas, but elevates itself by going for something more restrained…’

That title comes from an old-school children’s game in the vein of What’s The Time, Mr Wolf? but there’s not much playing around in Mother, May I?. This is a demanding, rewarding psychodrama that plays with some traditional horror ideas, but elevates itself by going for something more restrained, something more effective than jump scares and cheap CGI monsters. Indie cinema darlings Kyle Gallner and Holland Roden play Anya and Emmett, a couple who have inherited a huge house after the death of his estranged mother. We expect a haunting, or at least a ghost, but that’s not at all where Laurence Vannicelli’s movie goes…

Anya is a smart cookie, and she’s a professional psychoanalyst; that’s why she seeks to help Emmett through his grief by using some play-acting techniques as therapy. That means that after the duo partake of some magic mushrooms, she wears some of his mother’s clothes, smoking the cigarettes that she smoked, and interacts with him in character as his mom. But is Anya acting, or is she actually reflecting some kind of possession? And once Anya returns to herself, what happens next? She doesn’t seem to remember exactly who she was when she was playing the part…

So don’t expect Conjuring-style jump scares; there’s none of that ghost-train malarkey here. But what Mother, May I? has in spades is dread, foreboding and disconcerting psychological tricks; this is a film with a subject matter that might be triggering for some, but those seeking something serious will get a big serving of a well-observed, deeply troubled co-dependant relationship, with Anya and Emmett both seeming to have the upper hand at times. It’s also not quite a two-hander, with veteran Chris Mulkey (First Blood) in a key role as a neighbour who is keeping a watchful eye on the goings-on in the magisterial barn that Emmett has inherited.

Mother, May I? isn’t a lot of laughs and traditional horror audiences may be less than impressed by the sober, sombre tone; it’s got a steely narrative grip, but also an oppressive view of how grief can twist and distort how we see things. Gallner and Roden both give nuanced, deceptive performances, and you’re never quite sure whom you’re rooting for or why. But when most psychological horror falls at the first hurdle, Mother, May I? pushes through to become a rather more sinister look at what lies beneath our outwardly expressed notions of who we are and why.

Vertigo Releasing presents Mother, May I? on digital platforms from today, 21 August 2023


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  1. Hm. So the guy’s wife is a psychoanalyst who tries to help her hubby get over the loss of his mom by cosplaying as her. This does not seem like a healthy marriage.

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