Review: mother!

Don’t you just hate it when people turn up unannounced? Is a saying that’s taken to the nth degree with Darren Aronofsky’s latest. Cleverly shot with most of the film in tight close up to accentuate the claustrophobia, mother! is one helluva house to live in. As it moves along and becomes more increasingly ludicrous, the devil of excess take over to deliver an attention grabbing and equally (intentionally) frustrating experience.

Much hoopla and ballyhoo has been made about Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky’s mother! with people not understanding it, or showering it with praise as if it is a revelatory cinematic experience. Flashy, it surely is, is it a revelation? Not really. One thing is certain, though, the film is ambitious and goes for it hard!

It was the production choices physically that took this viewer’s attention. The film is shot in cinemascope (1:2.39) yet it is shot entirely inside a house with the majority of it in close up. It’s a ballsy move, and done purposely to drive the lack of space our heroine feels as the film descends into madness.

In the middle of idyllic nowhere, couple (Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem) live a modest life. She is slowly renovating the fixer-upper and he is a poet suffering writer’s block. A knock comes to the door as a man (Ed Harris) presents himself as a doctor who thought their abode was a bed and breakfast. Inexplicably, the author allows him to stay and the oddities begin to cascade around her as the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up the next day.

This is all about a descent into madness. As mother! unspools and, in turn, this couple unravels, there are echoes of other films that ruminate through the experience. The Devil’s Advocate (if it was told from the Charlize Theron character), What Lies Beneath and Rosemary’s Baby are most referenced yet, with Aronofsky at the helm, he’s more unbound here even when working in the frames of a studio picture.

Told from the perspective of She, timelines fray, the house has a physicality all its own, and the author’s ego servicing generosity all confound her and, in turn, us. Capturing the astounding frustration of being trapped in your own home with teems of strangers using and abusing your private space is done in expert fashion.

Lawrence is committed as the lead and it is a good thing as over 50% of the film is all tight close ups of her face (no, I’m not kidding). Michelle Pfeiffer is gloriously catty as the wife and nails her turn flawlessly (if only she was in it longer!). Harris and Bardem are equally solid in their nefarious roles.

The final act of mother!, the much hyped ‘bat-shit-crazy’ sequence, is indeed intense but never feels more than a shock value exercise. Sure, it is definitely journeying through the seven circles of hell for this character but mother!’s insistence to be a psychological torture affair, it does feel as though we have walked these boards before in other films.

What shines in mother! is the crafting of the film, it drips feeds its off-kilter premise from the opening seconds and ramps it up thick and fast. The film looks good, feels assured (burgeoning on arrogant given its pedigree), and is relentless in pushing the intensity of its framework.

mother! is a tight ship. It’s a claustrophobic, frustrating and incongruously engaging horror film. Whilst what lies underneath the mayhem on show might ring a bit familiar, the film maker employs some really interesting techniques to keep it engaging the more and more ludicrous it gets.

✭✭✭1/2

mother! is in Cinemas Nationally through PARAMOUNT PICTURES