“It’s not going to work, you know. We’re almost dead.”
— Grandma Mona
When Marcy (Fayelyn Bilodeau) loses her job as a flautist with the Chicago Philharmonic, her girlfriend, and apartment in one fell swoop, she does what most of us have done in the midst of our twenty-something failures: we return to our childhood home.
In Marcy’s case, she’s not only lying low to figure out her next move, but to help her grandfather Archie (Richard Riehle) take care of Mona (Helen Slayton-Hughes), her dementia-suffering grandmother. When Marcy begins to experience the same visions and voices as her grandmother, she realizes a spirit attached to a box of antique tchotchkes has invaded the suburban clapboard home. Helping Marcy in the supernatural battle is Coco, the neighborhood’s Barbie Doll-cum-Tangina Barrons-wannabe (Kiersten Warren), a mysterious phone psychic, and an ice cream truck-based weed dealer with a penchant for the supernatural and horror films.
Now, while that synopsis sounds conventional—like Blumhouse “shock scares” conventional—there’s nothing in the recent haunted house, possession, and supernatural forces-at-play CGI universes of the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, or The Conjuring franchises (or American J-Horror reboots) that will prepare you for phantasmagoric feast that is The Invisible Mother. For you are entering the The Twilight Zone on acid: A world where M.C Escher and Salvador Dali are your overlords: a surrealistic world where you run up a set of ouroboros stairs from a melting world to nowhere. This is a film where you will experience the same excitement the first time you watched the out-of-left field insanity of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. It will become the new “classic” that horror aficionados will slide onto their shelf next to those films for perpetual, over-the-years viewings. It’s a film, like David Robert Mitchell’s amazing Under the Silver Lake that, after your first viewing, you immediately hit the start button to suck on mother’s teat a second time to drink in all the details you missed the first time. Toss the recent pseudo-yellow oozers of Omar Jacobo’s Blood Freaks and David Fowler’s Welcome to the Circle on that list.
“That’s not Taffy . . . that’s something else.”
— Grandma Mona
Those who’ve had an opportunity to see The Invisible Mother on the festival circuit call it a “modern day giallo.” And there’s certainly a giallo influence in the swirling cameras, odd cinematography angles, and vibrant color schemes of the Maestros Mario Bava and Dario Argento—along with Paul Naschy’s penchant for out-of-left-field Spanish red herrings and plot twists, and Spain’s giallo purveyors Claudio Guerin’s and Bigas Luna’s corkscrews for the bizarre.
But there’s also a taste of giallo’s black-and-white noir roots: Is Glorianna (Debra Wilson) a faux-witch with an agenda? Is Coco giving the ol’ Henry James turn-of-the-screw on the old folks? Is Archie gaslighting Mona and did he call Marcy home to twist her into his plan? Are Archie and Coco in consort? Do Glorianna and Coco need Marcy for a sinister, Argentoesque purpose? Is the house on a hellish portal and Marcy is the key? Is Mona really suffering from Alzheimer’s? Is Wyatt’s (Kale Clauson) weed, in fact, laced and causing Marcy’s oneiric state? What is going on in this Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain-inspired world where even Sigmund Freud would question his own sanity?
But then there are the elements of David Lynch’s taste for the oneiric experimental (The Elephant Man, Lost Highway), Andy Warhol’s palate for the perverse avant-garde (Flesh for Frankenstein), the celluloid hyperbole of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Polyester), and Todd Solondz’s oeuvre of offbeat plots and kinked characters (Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse).
And while the VHS centers of my celluloid cortex loaded up copies of the bloody, Neapolitan delights of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Paolo Cavara, Ruggero Deodato, Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino, I also got my analog buzz on with the J-Horror static of Takashi Miike (Gozu, Visitor Q), Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On, Reincarnation), and Lee Soo-yeon (Uninvited). And while impressionist Alejandro Jodoroswky (El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre) is justifiably named dropped when reviewing The Invisible Mother, I shall trek one step deeper into the underworld: I got some serious supernatural phantasmagoria vibes of the José Mojica Marins variety with his Coffin Joe romps At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.
“For years you were like a snail. Happy, hiding. Happy, hiding.”
—Wyatt, the Ice Cream Man
And even after all of that critically rambling, I still haven’t spoiled The Invisible Mother; for this feature film debut by co-writers and directors Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman may be difficult to explain, but it’s impossible to spoil. And while I may have led you to believe this film is incoherent, these two neo-giallo enthusiasts, who cut their teeth in the reality television (Matthew Diebler; Catfish, Ice Love Coco) and special effects fields (Jacob Gillman; Sucker Punch), weave a cohesive narrative.
And that’s the intrinsic beauty of The Invisible Mother. It defies convention. It’s an ambiguity open to your interpretation. It’s a film noir riddle falling down an out-of-control Alice in Wonderland “rabbit hole” puzzle wrapped in an Italian murder enigma. Diebler and Gillman crawled inside our bodies to wear us like a Jame Gumb skin suit: they made a film for us, the cinematically nostalgic orphans enamored with ‘70s films reissued on the ‘80s VHS video fringe.
The Invisible Mother is a giallo—yet it’s bloodless. It’s Argentoesque—without the blunt force trauma. It’s fear and dread—with a soupçon of Naschy’s taste for the humorous dark. It’s a psychedelic whirling dervish of primary colors; a realm rife with intricately detailed sets, practical in-camera effects, and stop-motion and reverse photography (by co-writer/co-director Gillman). It’s a film that never shocks or startles. It’s a film where your eyes blaze wide-open at an endless series of unsettling “WTF” moments set to a pseudo-progressive jazz soundtrack (like a Dario Argento film co-scored by Bauhaus and The Normal) that induces nausea. It’s a film rife with all these little moments (of copper fishes, kitschy salt n’ pepper shakers, licorice cookies, pin cushions, 1940s Royal Victorian phones, 1970s oil lamps, and 1980s VHS-era video art from the beyond). It’s a masterpiece of “giallo impressionism” that I want to expose in-a-catch-all-schizophrenic-run-on-sentence-of-hysterical-amazement.
In case you haven’t figured it out: I bow at this movie’s yellow-soaked altar.
The most heartwarming highlight of The Invisible Mother is seeing the long-in-the-business “I don’t know their names, but I know their faces” of Richard Riehle (I just saw him on a re-run of TV’s Roseanne) and Helen Slayton-Hughes (who I just watched in a binge of HBO’s True Blood) given the opportunity to carry a feature film—and both are award-winning fantastic. Reihle’s 400-plus resume since the late ‘80s features his work on Fox-TV’s Grounded for Life and CBS-TV’s NCIS, along with the films Bridesmaids, Bruce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Casino, and Office Space. Slayton-Hughes was Ethel Beavers on NBC-TV’s Parks and Recreation and appeared in the Metallica romp, Hesher.
You know Fayelyn Bilodeau from her recent appearances on Showtime’s hit series Shameless and TV Land’s American Woman. You’ve seen Keirsten Warren in a wide variety of film and TV appearances since the early ‘90s, such as her feature film debut in Independence Day (Tiffany the Stripper who greeted the aliens on the building roof that got zapped), and her recurring roles in Desperate Housewives and Saved by the Bell: The College Years. And it’s nice to see animated voice artist Debra Wilson, a cast member of my beloved FOX-TV’s Mad TV and Reno 911!, on the big screen. Kale Clauson most recently appeared on TV’s S.W.A.T and Good Girls.
“I am not sure what you’re trying to convey. I simply sell frozen confections. Perhaps I can interest you in some Necco Wafers?”
—Wyatt, the Ice Cream Man
We’re also digging on “Dracula,” the film’s theme song by Geneva Jacuzzi and Bubonic Plague. You can learn more about Geneva’s music at her official website. Then there’s the ambient music of Matt Hill & Umberto serving as the soundtrack. You can listen to all four albums by Umberto on their You Tube page. The embedded playlist, below, will get you to those songs, and more, from The Invisible Mother.
Recently completing a successful, multi-award winning film festival run, Freestyle Digital Media acquired the North American VOD rights. You’ll be able to rent and own copies of The Invisible Mother on digital HD internet, cable, and satellite platforms starting on October 12, 2021. Other films we’ve reviewed through Freestyle Digital Media include The Capture, The Control, Dead Air, Goodbye Honey, Hawk & Rev: Vampire Slayers, and Shedding.
Disclaimer: We discovered this movie via social media, were intrigued by the trailer, and reached out to the filmmakers to provide us with a screener copy.