Mother’s Day (2023, Dzien Matki) Movie Review: The striking difference between American-made-for-Netflix action movies and the imports that Netflix brings into its arsenal showcases the dichotomy of the directors’ vision of the action genre. For every “The Gray Man,” there is a “Furies,” “Killer Boksoon,” or “The Night Comes For Us.”
Let’s look at “The Gray Man” as the sample on observation. It is eerily clear that it is a factory-made, CGI-laden monstrosity with barely a discernible characteristic in its own right. It is too busy to imitate or conform to the current blockbuster sensibility and also be a movie satisfying all corners of the Netflix audience.
The main feature lacking in these movies is an actual effort put into the cornerstones of the action genre: action set-pieces that are well choreographed and have practical stunt work with editing done well enough with the help of dynamic camera work such that the viewers could see the trajectory of the punches, kicks, or crazy moves of the protagonist instead of using CG and using dimly lit VFX to hide the shoddily created action sequences.
On the other hand, imports on Netflix know the genre they are operating in. Their ambitions are not sky-high or blockbuster-centric high-scale theatrical nirvana but smaller-scale grittier violent action spectacles with a healthy dose of milieu specificity as well as an emotional arc.
That’s not to say that “Mother’s Day” is a great movie and one of the best of the genre. But there is a certain campiness to the genre that has been missing from these Netflix action movies. Honestly, if Netflix’s goal is to supplant those video stores, it might behoove them to have some of these VOD standard action fares where the efficiency and brutality of the action scenes are tantamount.
The story follows Nina, a former NATO agent who currently lives alone in a washed-out apartment in Poland. Her son Naks lives with his adoptive parents. One of Nina’s itineraries is to stake out outside her son’s house and watch over him, keeping in mind not to reveal her true identity and how his real father had been killed in action.
All of this changes when Naks is kidnapped by a distinctive-looking trio of goons working for a Russian diplomat with the agenda of kidnapping and destabilizing Poland. Nina’s bumbling, corrupt cop friend Igor leads her to one of the goons. From there, Nina connects the dots, bashes the heads, and figures out the location of her son. What follows is a campy and bloody carnage.
The problem with this movie isn’t the movie’s plot. It’s the execution of said plot with the bare minimum of effort that is unable to satisfy the ambitions of the tale. Keeping in mind the aesthetic of the film, you might be inclined to believe that it will fall under the John Wick template of a neon-noir action film.
However, the color palette of yellow hues with shades of sickly green reminds you more of Crank, and those campy fight scenes don’t dissuade those opinions. But the noir sensibility is also present on the paper if the ideas in the screenplay dealing with a political conspiracy playing off the strained relationship between Russia and Poland are any indication. That convolution ultimately feels needless and distracts from the main narrative thrust of the story.
Agnieszka Grochowska, as Nina, is the star of the show. Her frowns and creases on her skin complement the deadpan nature of her character, hiding the emotional scars and the hint of a deeper and more violent backstory. But it is in those action set pieces that Grochowska truly shines.
The action scenes are not as cleanly edited or completely done via long takes. Still, we see the usage of dynamic camera work, following Nina as she punches, kicks, uses eggs to attack goons on the eyes, and uses a cleaver to cut through their legs. And as if to counter the craziness, the villains, too, become more over-the-top because one of the goons’ preferred weapons are twin tasers, which he uses in attacking Nina. Nina manages to one-up him by pretending to be hit by one of those tasers, only to take the leads of that taser and jab them at his knee, incapacitating him while utilizing the wires to choke him out and kill him.
There is not much of the finesse of a John Wick, and neither is there the Neveldine and Taylor brand of craziness that had been emblematic of the Jason Statham-led Crank duology, but the inspiration is very evident. And Grochowska is very much invested in the role, having done the majority of the action set-pieces by herself with such perfect transitions from her to her stunt double that sometimes you are confused. This gives those action scenes an extra layer of weight and emotional heft as we see her getting tired, hurt, and injured, her body slowly deteriorating from the violence inflicted on her.
There are elements of the plot that are so predictable that they almost manage to destroy the central protagonist’s capabilities because the eventual betrayal comes from the most obvious of sources. Some scenes had been introduced simply to pay off the ending. Still, Grochowska’s sincere acting manages to elevate the core dynamic of her and her son, bestowing upon “Mother’s Day” a justification of why the badass mother tropes almost always work if given an appropriate amount of attention.
There is a sequel tease at the end, with the introduction of another “mother” in the mix. While that is intriguing, the story needs to be streamlined further in the sequel while leaning further into the campy elements of the story for “Mother’s Day” to stand itself apart in the action genre.