"This Is What Happens When You Overpraise David Lynch"
SCREENED AT THE 2006 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: When I was young and would injure myself in some way, instead of treating the boo-boo like a national emergency, my mom would routinely outstretch her arms and yell “SAFE!” It’s an interesting approach and one I hope more mothers subscribe to. Tending to your children’s well-being while not imposing on them an unnecessary sense of danger to every little crisis that comes along. I like to believe I turned out OK as a result. Ariel Vromen’s Danika falls somewhere in-between Julianne Moore’s housewife from Safe and Kyra Sedgwick’s overprotective “you're mine, MINE!” mommy of Loverboy. And it plays its theme within the confines of a creepy thriller where mom may know best – only not quite sure of what she knows. Except like every other brain-bending blend of visions and nightmares of late, it betrays its good will by playing a game of deception with the audience that’s well past the stage of “fool me twice.”Marisa Tomei plays Danika, a mother-of-three married to Craig Bierko. As a child she witnessed her brother get tragically struck down by a car when their mother wasn’t paying attention. Actually it’s more like the kid ran full blast after a ball into a virtual cul-de-sac of flowing traffic, so it’s hard to completely blame the mother who was watering the flowers, but surely it puts an overt motherly instinct not to fall under the same trap. On her way to work she hears of the found body of a missing child and then witnesses a brutal robbery of her bank from her manager’s office. There’s only one problem. There is no robbery and whatever paranoia led her to cowering in fear sends her home permanently.
This seems ideal for Danika who deep down wants nothing more than to watch over her kids 24/7, but what kind of paranoiac is she? Her oldest son (Kyle Gallner) has just met a more mature foreign exchange student. Her daughter (Nicki Prian) is being assigned reading material at school which has her asking “what a cunt is.” And the youngest (Ridge Canipe) likes to sneak out at three-in-the-morning to take a fully-clothed dip in their neighbor’s pool. What’s a mother to do? She doesn’t believe in nannies and the world she lives in is proving to be the primary conspirator to corrupting her babies past a point beyond her control. Visits to a psychiatrist (Regina Hall) to curb her nightmarish visions of isolation - and that beheaded woman she doesn’t remember shopping for - prove to be little help even after they catch up to a present in which Danika may be more prescient than she ever realized.
It’s somewhere just as the second act is winding into the third that you can sense the film retracing the footsteps of its predecessors. Like Danika’s visions, audience members themselves will be ahead of the film (in a good way) trying to piece together the forming puzzle. But as the past-and-future merge quickly into Danika’s present, the film slowly starts reexamining everything that’s come before it and forcing the audience to the point of accepting its intricacies or dismissing it as just another exercise in brain-busting manipulation where themes and consistency lose out to the almighty twists and turns.Marisa Tomei is quite solid in the lead role as one of the best looking soccer moms on any block. We feel for her insecurities and the fear of not being able to mother a full nest. Vromen shows some real directing flair, substituting growing dread in place of mere shock stingers to punch home Danika’s descent. Joshua Leibner’s script nails as many of the potential warning signs for parents in a world where one mom or one dad couldn’t possibly be asked to shield their child’s eyes from everything, which makes it all the more upsetting that it had to go for the easy genre closer instead of exploring the universal parental mentality that Danika had going for it until the final half-hour. At least my mom had the good sense to teach me the cardinal suburbia rule of looking both ways. Especially if you're ever on Mulholland Drive.