It’s always a happy occasion when Rusty and I have the time to watch a LMN movie together. Since we don’t get to do it very often, it’s best to try for a special occasion kind of a film. Family Sins hit our criteria through three very important key phrases: “true crime”, “evil basement”, and “Kirstie Alley”. We sat down on Friday with a bottle of Kid Rock’s favorite bourbon (Red Stag!) and gave it a go.
First off, can I just say “ew”. It’s no secret that my favorite true crime Lifetime movies are the campy ones. This one was like if the team behind Saw remade Serial Mom. I know that it’s cliched to proclaim something Saw-like, but this movie is striving for it. Every third scene features someone being tortured in a grimy tableau. Your enjoyment of the movie will be predicated by your ability to enjoy watching a mentally handicapped woman get enslaved, beaten, and raped by people she trusted to take care of herself and her baby. Whoops, spoiler alert. Also, they rape her daughter. Again with the spoilers!
The movie starts with a family photo session that is probably trying to remind us of Capturing the Friedmans. (Remember when we talked about how it’s not a good idea to remind us of a better movie in the middle of a bad movie? Read the blog, you hacks!) Is this picture perfect family not what they seem, or will this be the most boring hour since Project Runway moved to Lifetime? Cut to Kirstie Alley playing Brenda Geck, celebrating Mothers Day with her extended brood of biological and foster kids. Her kids are creepy, too. One is a Spencer Pratt-y meathead. There’s also a girl who hides in the corner and looks and acts like pre-pubescent Carrie: sad, stuttery, and powerless. She spends a lot of her time shielding a tiny boy in her lap who looks a little too much like the Spencer dude. Brenda receives a bunch of lovely expensive appliances with price tags attached. Carrie, who is actually named Marie, is the only person who did not bring Brenda a Mother’s Day present. This is underlined, highlighted, and poked into our eyes by writers who are firm believers in foreshadowing. And rape basements. Mostly rape basements.
The film leaps forward and we learn that Marie has fled the household, little blonde mini-Spence in tow. She’s trying to find an official to listen to her story, but everyone is all “That family is cool, you crazy”. As always in Lifetime films, social services only exist to rip families apart, ignore children in crisis, and maybe set orphans on fire. Her flight to freedom is interspersed with flashbacks to her icky childhood. Apparently, Mrs. Geck spends most of her time teaching her kids to shoplift and setting fires in her family’s rental properties when the tenants displease her. Don’t worry for them though, it’s not all iron-fist tactics for a Geck property tenant. For example, one of the unfortunate arson victims was lucky enough to be taken in to their home, child in tow, for some loving rehabilitation. It’s unfortunate that the Geck family learned their rehab techniques from Abu Ghraib, but oh well. If sexual assault, torture, and forced labor is good enough for our enemies, it’s good enough for a mentally handicapped woman and her child. The mentally handicapped woman, who is named Nadine, is locked by Brenda in the basement for “her own good”. She doesn’t eat unless she does the housework to Brenda’s specifications, and the one time she flees the property she’s delivered back there by a well-meaning policeman and is rewarded with a beating from a stripped extension cord. She doesn’t have the werewithal to escape on her own, and her daughter doesn’t fare much better- raised as a Geck, as she grows older she learns of her mother’s imprisonment. She also learns that she’s expected to shoplift to support the family, and oh yeah, any male member of the family is entitled to sexually assault her at any time. One morning Brenda teases her for getting too fat, only to learn that she’s been impregnated by her son. Instead of being horrified, she beats up Marie for being dumb enough to get knocked up by one of her kids. One commenter on the Lifetime site singled this moment out as a “lighthearted teasing” scene that allowed Kirstie Alley to show her fun side. I didn’t know they had internet access in the violent offender wings of federal prisons, but you learn something new every day.
Carrie finally manages to find someone who will listen to her, a young DA that hasn’t drunk the Geck Kool-Aid. The pieces of Marie’s stories don’t mesh with what the town believes about the Gecks, but they make enough sense that he’s willing to hear her out. A raid on the Geck’s house reveals Nadine’s imprisonment, which is enough to put them all in custody while the DA builds a case. They slowly learn about the arson, the shoplifting, and the other illegal stuff the Gecks get up to. Brenda is unrepentant, and calls a dude that fences shoplifted goods for her to make things hard on Marie. He haunts her trailer, setting stuff on fire and breaking shit, but is generally just a nuisance as opposed to a real threat. And yes, the only other criminal in the film is black. Of course he is.
The climax of the film is the trial, which pretty much goes how you’d expect. Testimony is given, Marie cries a lot, Brenda looks suitably chagrined, and the men of the family get 10-20 years a piece for their involvement. The judge is super-excited to send Brenda to jail. Marie gets her public vindication, and she moves into a trailer with her mom. The film ends on a touching family hug. Yaaaay!
Urgh. Yes, this movie is campy and weird, and has a lot going for it in the arena of production values and a very strong cast. BUT! I cannot give awesomeness points to a movie where a mentally handicapped woman reminisces about how gentle her rapist was. Does that sentence make you feel awesome? Hey, me neither. 5 points for baseline awesome and I am cutting you off, movie.
Star Power: 6
Kirstie Alley has to be worth 5 points. She was in Cheers, and also is fat, which apparently means that as a nation we must observe and scrutinize her at all times. Everyone else in this had bit parts in every TV show ever, which makes them all annoyingly familiar but not immediately recognizable.
Now THIS is a Lifetime movie. Motherhood, child abuse, true crime, women in peril: this is the greatest hits reel of Lifetime Movies. This is Now Thats What I Call A Lifetime Movie!. It also had my favorite instance of a social services diss in one of these films: a harried social worker checking her watch and yawning as a child covered in bruises and close to tears says her family life is fine. Fuckin’ social workers. Am I right?
I feel 21 is fair. This movie is a riveting watch, and it’s certainly everything you’d expect from an LMN joint. But it is just SO GROSS. I’m going to go ahead and say you should watch it once, but I kind of doubt you’ll want to watch it again.