Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

Mother, May I? (Film Review)

3 min read
Kyle Gallner and Daphne Gaines in Mother, May I?

Vertigo Releasing

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

After rising to prominence with SXSW hit Porno in 2019, which he co-wrote alongside Umma's Matt Black, is back with his directorial debut Mother, May I?.

The follows Emmett () as he prepares to clean and flip his recently deceased mother's home so as to rid himself of the abode in which she abandoned him as a young child, and the trauma still lingering from it. However, Anya (), his fiancé, insists being at the house is an opportunity for Emmett to deal with the aforementioned trauma that she believes is hindering their relationship.

The pair indulge in magic mushrooms in a bid to let go, but as they're both high Anya begins acting like Emmett's mother, Tracy. The next morning, as the couple sobers up, Anya won't drop the act which makes Emmett question whether this is another of Anya's twisted games, or if she is somehow possessed by his mother's spirit.

Kyle Gallner and Daphne Gaines in Mother, May I?
Vertigo Releasing

Mother, May I? is a slow burn that takes its time acquainting us with its characters and their deep-seated issues, setting an incredibly detailed scene that compounds the horrors to come. The film is filled with jarring, curt interactions that create the bubbling undercurrent of hatred and pain that is ever-present within the narrative, expertly building the atmosphere of unease that feels as if an argument can explode at any moment – and they do, with devastating emotional consequences.

Filled with frank, mean interactions, much of the of Mother, May I? comes from the anguish felt by Emmett and Anya as they struggle with the plethora of mommy issues between them, as well as their own turbulent relationship. While the film dances with the idea of Anya's possession, whether or not she is actually inhabited by the ghost of Tracy is a question that lingers throughout the narrative as a backdrop to the uncomfortable and downright cruel actions between the couple.

Their hesitation to begin a family coupled with the looming question of why exactly Tracy abandoned Emmett as a child leads to some truly painful conversations between the two that see not only the couple unravel, but the audience too as the tension ramps up scene by scene to a fever pitch.

Kyle Gallner in Mother, May I?
Vertigo Releasing

The film hinges heavily on the performances of Gallner and Roden, and they deliver in droves. Gallner's emotional performance as Emmett brings together a whirlwind of confusion, hurt, and bubbling resentment toward his partner that makes his character devastatingly captivating. Roden, however, really steals the show through her transformation into Tracy, Emmett's mother. Slight changes in her movement and inflection make all the difference as she embodies a completely different person, something that she can switch in and out of at a moment's notice while always keeping the audience guessing her true motives. Her portrayal is so convincing that she brings to life a character we never actually get to meet.

This simmering tension boils over in the final act, but it doesn't rely on getting in some final shocking twists or explosive revelations, rather ending in a quiet reflection that may prove anti-climactic to some, but hauntingly brilliant to others. Filled with stunning visuals masking a dark, dangerous undercurrent, Mother, May I? is a unique ghost story that is sure to bore into your brain.

Mother, May I? will be released on digital platforms on August 21.