Lifetime Film Review: Mommy Group Murder (dir by Nick Everhart)

There are a few lessons that I’ve learned from Lifetime movies in general and the film Mommy Group Murder in specific.

First off, don’t live in the suburbs.  Like, seriously, don’t do it.  Yes, the houses are big and everyone’s got a nice lawn and there’s always some hot guy working shirtless across the street from you.  Yes, it may seem like a nice and fun place to live but don’t be fooled.  You want to know why all those pretty and handsome people are living in the suburbs?  Because they’ve all got something to hide!  The minute they see you and your sensitive husband and your baby moving into the big, white house next door, they’re going to start plotting against you.  Next thing you know, strangers will be putting cameras in your house and having sex on your kitchen counters and you’ll be hearing weird noises at all hours of the night.

(Of course, I already live in the suburbs so I’m learning this lesson a bit too late.  Admittedly, my suburban neighborhood seems to be a bit safer than the average Lifetime suburban neighbor.  I have yet to find any hidden cameras in the house and the kitchen counters are thoroughly cleaned every day.)

Lesson number two: no matter how appealing the mysterious mansion next door might look, resist the temptation to break in and look around.  In fact, for that matter, don’t even accept an invitation to visit.  Nothing good ever happens in those mansions.  There’s always either a dead body hidden in an ice chest or someone chained up in the basement.  Once you discover something like that, you’re pretty much required by law to get involved and go to the police.  So, seriously, think before you invade.

Lesson number three: You know that person who shows up out of nowhere and suddenly wants to be your new best friend?  DON’T TRUST THEM!  When all of your old friends or your husband says that they think there’s something strange about your new BFF, LISTEN!  And when you discover that your new best friend is using an alias, ask yourself why.  Don’t just shrug and say, “Well, she just changed her name.  Big deal.”

Finally, lesson number four — and this is one that was specifically driven home by this movie: Don’t join a mommy group!  Sure, it’s tempting.  I mean, you’re suffering from crippling depression.  You’re having nightmares about someone trying to kidnap your baby.  Your new best friend suggests that maybe you need to join a mommy group so that you can talk about all of this with people who actually understand what you’re going through.  It seems like a great idea but, if Lifetime has taught us anything, it’s that these mommy groups always lead to secrets, lies, and murder!

That’s what Natalie (Leah Pipes) discovers after she befriends the mysterious Grace (Helena Mattsson).  Natalie and Grace are the center of Mommy Group Murder, a film which aired on Lifetime back in March.

Plotwise, Mommy Group Murder may seem like a typical Lifetime film.  Suburbs, adultery, murder, and a best friend that no one listens to until it’s too late, it’s all here!  However, Mommy Group Murder also features a wonderfully nuanced performance from Leah Pipes and a few twists and turns that take the movie to a slightly darker place than the average Lifetime film.  Director Nick Everhart emphasizes the darkness at the heart of the film’s story, opening with a harrowing montage of Natalie struggling to bond with her daughter and ending with a shadowy sequence that has as much in common with a horror film as a Lifetime film.

Mommy Group Murder is a nicely done, melodramatic thriller.  Watch it and learn.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #124: Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story (dir by Peter Sullivan)

Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime original movie, Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story!

hannah-3_r620x349Why Was I Watching It?

The most obvious answer is because it was on Lifetime.  As y’all know, I love Lifetime movies, especially when they’re based on a “true” crime story.

As well, I am among those who, since 2013, have been fascinated and frustrated with the twists and turns of the Hannah Anderson kidnapping case.  Hannah was a 16 year-old cheerleader who was kidnapped by a family friend, James DiMaggio.  DiMaggio also murdered Hannah’s mother and younger brother.  When Hannah was finally found and rescued by the FBI, many questioned whether Hannah had been DiMaggio’s victim or his accomplice.

I can still remember when questions were first raised over Hannah’s role in DiMaggio’s crimes.  It seemed like everyone had an opinion.  There were some days when I felt like Hannah had to be innocent and then there were other days when I thought the exact opposite. Nearly two years later and I still go back-and-forth.  That’s the main reason I wanted to see Kidnapped.  I wanted to see whether this would be the film that would finally convince me one way or the other.

What Was It About?

The film begins with the FBI rescuing 16 year-old kidnapping victim Hannah Anderson (Jessica Amlee) and killing her kidnapper, Jim DiMaggio (Scott Patterson).  A traumatized Hannah returns home but soon discovers that some, in the media, are claiming that she collaborated with Jim to murder her mother and younger brother.  Hannah goes on a talk show to tell her side of the story.

What Worked?

Scott Patterson and Jessica Amlee gave good performances as Jim and Hannah.  Amlee was sympathetic throughout.  Patterson was properly creepy.

What Did Not Work?

The main reason that this case captured everyone’s imagination was because of the ambiguity of it all.  Nobody was quite sure how they felt about Hannah Anderson and, especially in the early days of the investigation, Hannah’s behavior gave a lot of people reason to feel uneasy about her story.  And while that’s probably not fair (who knows how any of us would act in a similar situation), it’s still the reason why people continue to debate the specifics of the Hannah Anderson kidnapping to this day.

Unfortunately, none of that ambiguity was present in the film.  The only voice heard is Hannah’s and those who had doubts about Hannah’s story are dismissed as being trolls and bullies.  In the process, a multi-layered mystery is reduced to just being the latest anti-bullying PSA.  Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story had all the elements necessary to be a truly intriguing and potentially unsettling film but, in the end, it’s just a standard Lifetime movie.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Considering the subject matter, I’d just as soon say that there were no “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moments.  However, that’s not quite true.  There were times that I cringed at the flashbacks to Hannah and Jim’s relationship before the kidnapping, because, when I was that age, I did have some similar relationships that, in retrospect, were more than a little bit creepy.  In particular, the scene where 40ish Jim says that he wishes he could “date” the 16 year-old Hannah brought back some less than fond memories.

Lessons Learned

Never underestimate the power of narrative ambiguity.

Film Review: Raze (dir by Josh C. Waller)

I have always had trouble working in a group with other women.

I wish that wasn’t true because it really is such a cliché, this idea that a group of women can’t get along for more than a few days or that we’re all always in some sort of passive aggressive competition with each other.  And I still don’t think that’s true for all women but it’s certainly been true for me.  For whatever reason, I seem to bring out the cattiness in certain people and, being the Irish lass that I am, it’s next to impossible for me to truly let anything go.  I remember every smirk, every eye roll, and every piece of innuendo that I’ve ever suspected was whispered behind my back.  It probably doesn’t help that I tend to be ultra-competitive about — well, about everything.  That’s why I’m sometimes jealous of the way that men can apparently compete each other without taking any of it personally or even that seriously.  Men can compete and remain friends with no hard feelings and I have to admit that I’ve never quite understood how they manage to do that.  Again, I wish that wasn’t true because it really does play into the stereotypes and clichés that men have used to keep us “in our place” for centuries.

I found myself thinking a lot about my competitive nature as I watched Raze, the debut film of director Josh C. Waller.

In Raze, a centuries-old secret society has kidnapped 50 women and imprisoned them in an underground prison.  As the leaders of the organization — the cadaverous Joseph (Doug Jones) and the deceptively maternal Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) — explain, the women will spend the next two weeks fighting each other.  Each fight will be to the death until only one is left alive.  If the women refuse to fight, their loves ones will be murdered.  If one of the women loses her fight, her loves ones will be murdered.  The only way for the women to save their loves ones is to be the lone survivor.

Since the movie opens with the tournament in progress, we only get to meet a handful of the women who are literally fighting for their lives.  Jamie (Rachel Nichols) was kidnapped from a bar after she made the mistake of telling a handsome stranger that she wanted to be a kickboxer.  Teresa (Tracie Thomas) is fighting to save her husband’s life.  Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) spends all of her time in her cell crying but still turns out to be a surprisingly efficient killer.  Pheobe (Rachel Marshall) is a sociopath who, alone of all the women, is actually enjoying the tournament.  And then there’s Sabrina (Zoe Bell), a former soldier and POW who is fighting to protect the daughter that she’s never met.

Probably the first thing that I should tell you about Raze is that it’s a violent film.  It’s not just that there’s a lot of fights in the film.  It’s the fact that those fights are so well-choreographed and the film’s cast so throws themselves into both their characters and the action on-screen that the violence feels real in a way that most film violence does not.  I don’t think I’ve ever winced as much and as often as I did while watching the fights in Raze because I found myself feeling each blow and each kick.  There are a lot of fights in Raze but they never feel repetitive because the viewers has an emotional stake in each and every one of them.

Thematically, Raze makes an attempt to turn the tournament into a metaphor for the battles that women have to fight every single day.  Elizabeth and Joseph both assure the women that the tournament’s champion will come out of the ordeal as a stronger and more independent woman.  It’s an idea that the film doesn’t explore as thoroughly as I would have liked but it’s still an interesting concept that made Raze a bit more thought-provoking than the usual genre piece.

Personally, I like films where women get to kick ass.  That’s why I’ve been always been willing to watch the Underworld and Resident Evil films, despite the fact that most of them kinda sorta suck.  That said, I prefer films where women get to beat up men and zombies to films where women beat each other to death.  On the surface, Raze has a lot in common the “women in prison” films that Roger Corman produced back in the 70s.  The main difference is that, in the Corman films, characters like Sabrina and Cody would never have consented to killing another woman.  Instead, they would have teamed up with Pam Grier and taken down the Man.

Raze is a lot better than you might expect but it still definitely could have used Pam Grier.