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Review: mother!

Darren Aronofsky’s new film mother! is a head scratcher. The marketing makes the film look like a home invasion horror starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Ed Harris. However, the finished film is far more complicated, allegorical and difficult than you might expect.

The plot is seemingly straightforward: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence” (Source: IMDb). Despite its simple plotline, the film is tremendously deep, if frustrating. Lawrence and Bardem are the aforementioned couple and Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer play the first of many characters who visit their home. The film has elements of Rosemary’s Baby in its setup, sharing its complex husband/wife relationship and with Harris and Pfeiffer appearing to play the Roman and Minnie Castavet roles. As the plot unfolds, the more abstract elements of the story become pronounced and those in the audience who view it with little understanding of the type of filmmaker Aronofsky is, will surely be perplexed and annoyed.

mother! is unlike any film that has been released this year, or perhaps any year. Aronofsky’s use (or misuse) of mainstream ideas and techniques to create something unconventional is inspired. Casting megastars like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, only to have them play strictly against type helps to boost the uneasy atmosphere. mother! is a horror film, but one which doesn’t play by the rules. There are several silent jumpscares over the course of the film which all reinforce the idea of intrusion without ever really being frightening. In this film, it is the ideas that are frightening, not the “scary moments”.

The cinematography has a very fixed and forced perspective. There are only really three types of shot throughout the entire film. We either see Lawrence’s face, over her shoulder, or what she sees. This creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere whilst also glueing us to Lawrence. The horror comes from the sense that we are as powerless as she is. While it can get a little monotonous, it does brilliantly convey the ideas of the film.

Lawrence is superb as the central character. She perfectly encapsulates the suspicion, terror and disbelief she feels towards the situation she is in. When Awards season comes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lawrence’s name was in the mix for Best Actress nominations. Bardem is also excellent, playing a smug and thoughtless poet whose creations seem to inspire those who come to visit them. Ed Harris is brilliant as always, as the doctor with the hacking cough. Michelle Pfeiffer is chilling as Harris’ wife, a woman with no sense of privacy or personal boundaries. Despite appearances by Domnhall and Brian Gleeson as well as Kristen Wiig, the central four players are the only ones who have the screen time to truly impress.

This film is intended to be esoteric and isn’t for the faint of heart. It has an 18 certificate for a reason and the final half an hour is full on and horrific. However, if you are willing to think about it, and not take mother! at face value, then it is a worthwhile film which takes lots of risks. If IT is too straightforward a horror experience, then perhaps mother! is for you.

mother! is in cinemas nationwide now. Image source: gamespot.com