James Franco's Lifetime Remake Misses Its Mark, Despite Relevant Subject Matter
It's unlikely anyone would ever mistake a Lifetime television movie with an Oscar-bait indie film. Lifetime films are known for being campy, fun and absurd; this works because they're in on the joke the whole time.
Such the case should be when you bring on James Franco to help recreate Lifetime's '90s cult classic, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, where a mother learns that her daughter is dating a murderous psychopath. The modern twist? They've added lesbian vampires into the mix, instead of a traditional single killer.
However, the revamping of the Lifetime classic is unintentionally compelling with the female vampires' ideology for choosing would-be rapists as their victims, in light of the Brock Turner rape case that's grabbing national headlines. But like Franco's previous forays into sexuality and identity, it fails at its own message — this time with a muddling, and hypocritical, final act.
The new film's ill-fated romance centers around Leah (Leila George), a college girl with a passion for the creative arts, and her gothic, vampire girlfriend Pearl (Emily Meade). Of course, at the start, Leah isn't aware of Pearl's secret. Instead, she's more concerned with whether her conservative-leaning mother (Tori Spelling, who played the daughter in the original) will accept the relationship.
Pearl is part of a posse of female vampires in the town; the others are posing as students at the college. It's also where the group is able to scope out their prey for whenever they sporadically need to feed on blood. However, from what we're presented with in the film, instead of simply plucking out random bystanders, they follow a distinct moral code. They kill would-be rapists.
We see the vampires enter a house party and glance through the partygoers, before fixating on an unnamed man that is caressing and feeling up a drunk girl, who he eventually leads upstairs. The scene itself is chilling — not just as a rape scene, but particularly because it's at a college party. The Brock Turner case flashes into memory. For all intents and purposes, the college might as well be Stanford.
The vampires, however, act as the vicious saviors in the moment, stopping the rape and killing the man brutally. As Pearl later explains when she reveals her true form to Leah, she feels killing them is the best way to satisfy the necessity of feeding.
Clearly, the general commentary on campus sexual assault was an intended message in Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? It's also more empowering because of recent cultural conversation. But the film later undermines this entire narrative on sexual assault by, quite literally, having an attempted rapist presented as the new leader of the vampire group.
This person is Bob (Nick Eversman), a friend of Leah's who is equal parts jealous of her role in a school play and annoyed she won't accept him as anything but a friend. Once he learns that she's a lesbian, he opts to drug Leah at a party because she has not appreciated his previous advances.
Again, the vampires, aside from Pearl, are able to save Leah from Bob. But they plan to turn Leah into a vampire — Pearl was ordered to do so, but was initially apprehensive because she was worried it would affect their relationship (no shit). Leah's mom intervenes before they're able to bite her, and the vampires quickly escape.
The vampires are next seen at the school play, prior to their big opening night, as Bob struts in afterward; hair slicked back as he wears a dark ensemble — the obvious hint that he's a vampire himself. The narrative turn is mere shock value that goes against the vampires' previously established ideology, for a more dramatic conclusion between Leah and Pearl to face off against the other vampires, including Bob, at the town's cemetery. However, for what's essentially a five-minute action scene, the film loses its inherently feminist message with a hypocritical, unnecessary twist.
Whether or not the film was intended to be campy and nonsensical — though it clearly was, as a Lifetime movie with vampires and gore abound — the tone of the film doesn't mean it shouldn't take the time to make sure it's portraying the right, consistent idea. Powerful undertones are presented in nontraditional forms all the time; it's the reason why Nickelodeon shows are so acclaimed for tackling a range of social issues, even as cartoons.
Under the serious topic of sexual assault, too, this can be executed. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's titular character is a survivor of sexual trauma, and the comedy never forgets this despite its cheery disposition. Jessica Jones, a show that exists in the same on-screen universe as The Avengers, demonstrates that even people with superpowers can be vulnerable to sexual assault.
Yet Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? ignores consistency in order to be more shocking in its final act. Ironically, once they made that decision, this Franco-involved adaptation lost its bite.