Less a remake of the Lifetime staple than a muddled deconstruction of queer theory, this messy movie isnt camp enough by half
Actor/director/artist/perpetual student/sometimes Oscar host/Instagram bad boy James Franco executive-produced a remake of Lifetime staple Mother May I Sleep with Danger? and its a bit like his career: spreading itself so thin that it doesnt manage to do anything with any conviction.
The original 1996 movie starring Tori Spelling as a girl who doesnt realize that her boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) is actually a dangerous rageaholic. She ends up being saved by her mother, who realizes something weird is going on, during a confrontation in a cornfield. Originally airing on NBC, this camp classic of bad acting and insane plotting became a fixture on Lifetimes schedule of women-in-peril flicks.
Franco says his remake was inspired by Will Farrells A Deadly Adoption, which aired on Lifetime last year, a hilarious and highly rated parody of the kind of gonzo movies that the channel usually makes. In an age when Sharknado and its sequels are must-watch social media events, leaning into a self-referential capacity for camp would be a smart decision for Lifetime, which has been slowly digging itself out of a creative ditch with the critical success of standout hit UnREAL.
So while Mother May I Sleep with Danger? aims to be both a remake and a parody it fails on both counts. Much like the original movie, it is now about Leah (Leila George) who is in a dangerous relationship that her mother Julie (Tori Spelling) must save her from. However, this time shes in a relationship with lesbian vampire Pearl (Emily Meade) and both Pearl and Leah are on the run from a coven of all-female nightwalkers who are forcing Pearl to turn Leah into one of them so they will have more food.
Leah, however, is trying to find her one true love because if a nightwalker turns her true love into a creature like them they can feed off each other for all of eternity and stop the killing. Its the sort of arrangement a stereotypical lesbian, who shows up on the second date with all of her possessions in a U-Haul, would absolutely adore.
Franco, who seems most comfortable within the confines of academia, tries to give the film a queer theory spin. College student Leah is taking a literature class (taught by Ivan Sergei from the original show) which deconstructs monster novels. These monster stories serve as homosexual metaphors, with the monster characters portraying the other. The queer symbol, he tells his student. The Monsters victims are not really victims but are hyper-exaggerated examples of virile, misguided heterosexuality.
This takes the subtext of camp classics and makes it text or in this case supertext. The professors dissertations on monsters as queer symbols are a treasure map leading the viewer precisely where Franco, screenwriter Amber Coney and director Melanie Aitkenhead want them to go.
The problem is the metaphor doesnt entirely hold. If this allegory is taken to its logical end it is seeking to make the lesbian lovers not the other but the norm, which is a noble goal. But then how do we explain the marauding pack of Sapphic bloodsuckers? Are they an embodiment of the gay agenda? How does that symbolic nature fit into this coven going around campus slaying men who are going to date-rape women? And how does Leah playing Macbeth in a school production of the Scottish Play fit into it all?
Mother May I Sleep With Danger? isnt quite the deconstruction were looking for, especially because it pulls apart the meanings of monster movies rather than the typical Lifetime movie. Francos mission is a noble and interesting one, but that was not the direction that it seems this remake should be selling.
In the end, strangely enough, the problem is that the movie is too good. The plotting is not insane enough, the acting not bad enough, or the production values too awful for it to actually be campy. Its philosophical aims also make it seem like its aspiring to be something that is actually good and insightful, which it also isnt. Just like Franco, Mother May I Sleep with Danger? tries to be all things to all people, and doesnt manage to do even one of them that well.
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