Daring director Darren Aronofsky returns to his 16mm roots with a polarising fable of broken affinity, fractured trust, and truly revolting desecrations.
Jennifer Lawrence’s titular mother! lives in relative seclusion with a dusky blocked writer played by Javier Bardem. One unexpected chime of their doorbell later and in slithers an enigmatic doctor – hatched with relish by the unshakeable Ed Harris. Soon his invasively spiteful wife rocks up in the lustrous form of screen legend Michelle Pfeiffer and so begins an exhaustive invasion of personal space, replete with paralysingly awkward displays of public affection, that threatens to infect every recess of their abode.
This is all you should know about the plot before allowing yourself to be tail-whipped by this dexterously smart, ethically repulsive horror allegory.
Of all the accusations that will be levelled at Aronofsky’s film, a lack of quality should not be among them. As you would expect from such a ludicrously strong ensemble the acting is uniformly faultless. Every member of the highly decorated cast and crew delight in ripping up their multifarious awards and nominations in order to dance in the confetti. Clunky B-movie dialogue is transformed into showers of melodramatic gold dust, any plot holes are quickly suffused with unalloyed class and the unnamed characters are fleshed out with restrained zeal.
Jen Lawrence is especially deft in a bravely exposed performance that sees every shot of the film constructed around her character and, incredibly, her face appears in close up for over half the film’s 2-hour run-time.
Dan Schrecker’s stunning visual effects blend seamlessly with Matthew Libatique’s choreographic cinematography, but it’s the sublime audio-scape from Game of Thrones sound designer Paula Fairfield and sound consultant Jóhann Jóhannsson that does the majority of the atmospheric heavy lifting.
These components complement each other with immense synergy until you can smell the sweat of mistrust, embrace the profound isolation of betrayal and taste the frustration behind the coffee laced kisses.
The gestation process of mother! is particularly telling. By writing it in just 5 days the director has rekindled the punky primordial spark that brought such originality and oppressive vigour to π and Requiem for a Dream. In contrast, mother! was meticulously rehearsed for 3 months in a Brooklyn warehouse, utilising a rendering of the real location house with tape on the floor for walls. The filmmakers shot every scene and edited the footage into a 90min test version that must have looked like a Luis Buñuel directed sequel to Dogville.
As a confidence building exercise, this dry run was a masterstroke, imbuing the movie with a menacingly tangible poise and granting Jennifer Lawrence the freedom to concentrate fully on shaking off any creative shackles.
Aronofsky has long been a seductively Machiavellian tour guide to shadow down the rabbit-hole but this riskily repugnant indie flick represents a new level of darkly intelligent, overtly pretentious manipulation.
However, the large contingent of horror fans who piled scorn upon mini-masterpiece The VVitch for its shortfall in slow-burn pay off will not be able to trigger the same get out clause here. Conversely, mother! features a climax that detonates like a cinematic roadside bomb.
The film mercilessly tweaks your nerves until it has coerced you into a zen-like state of mental paresthesia and then smashes your cerebellum to mush with an esoteric baseball bat. The sheer thematic tastelessness of this taboo breaking home run is purposely designed to push the panic button on the human condition.
There’s also an authentically stealthy twist that warps the film’s moral filter into a kaleidoscope of implied paranoia, not to mention the extraordinary committal of Lawrence to the incessant on screen escalations that left her huffing oxygen with a busted rib after filming.
Seriously, the insanely intense final reel is pure anxiety disorder with a frame rate.
Initially a chamber piece on the thermodynamics of relationship power struggles, things barrel so wildly out of control that it blossoms before your ever widening eyes into one of the most relevant horror films of the decade.
Bradley Hadcroft |
Relationship Thriller, Home Invasion Horror | USA, 2017 | 121 mins | – Strong Violence | Paramount Pictures | UK & US Cinemas 15 September. 2017 | Dir. Darren Aronofsky| Cast. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristen Wiig