16 April 2024
Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain star in Mothers Instinct

Film Review – Mothers’ Instinct (2023)

Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain star in Mothers Instinct
You’re intrigued from the start. The opening scene of Mothers’ Instinct feels so off-kilter that you’re pointed in a definite direction – only to be tripped up very neatly. All is clearly not what it seems and, from that moment on, questions linger about everything shown on screen. Is it for real? Is too much significance being attached to certain actions? Is everything just the imaginings of somebody still suffering from trauma? Or is there something else entirely going on here?

Celine (Anne Hathaway) and Alice (Jessica Chastain) are next door neighbours and such close friends they could be sisters. Their respective husbands get on well and they each have a son, also best friends, who go to and from each other’s gardens through a tunnel they’ve dug underneath the adjoining hedge. But when a horrific accident turns their idyllic lives upside down, guilt, suspicion and paranoia take the place of trust and affection, as a series of incidents point to something more sinister.

Doubt and tension quickly start to escalate in a psychological thriller which feels like it’s on familiar territory – you know, the one about the friendly neighbour who turns threatening and sinister. Yet nobody believes it could be true: in this case, it’s a mother in deep mourning, so surely murder would be the furthest thing from her mind. And it’s all set within those comfortable, Douglas Sirk brightly coloured suburbs of the 1960s where people live the dream and see it reflected on their TVs. There’s a Hitchcockian edge to it as well, exemplified by Chastain’s icy cool blonde hair, tightly pulled into a Tippi Hedren bun. By way of contrast, Hathaway keeps her hair black and, with her glamorous 60s fashions (it’s the Kennedy era), is likened to the President’s wife, just in case we haven’t worked that out for ourselves.

So the one with the dark hair has to be the villain of the piece? That’s the convention and a reluctance to break out of the usual confines of the psychological thriller is director Benoit Delhomme’s biggest weakness, even if he does partially redeem himself by drawing impressively on his background as a cinematographer. The film also benefits from Hathaway and Chastain giving nervy performances which allow them to carry the film between them with ease. Their respective husbands, played by Charles and Andersen Lie, aren’t so successfully drawn and have less to work with. But this is a thriller where the women are to the fore, even though their partners would have it otherwise, as they display their strengths, frailties and determination to protect their children and lifestyles with every fibre of their being.

While the tension mounts gradually, Mothers’ Instinct is never quite as nerve jangling as it could be. The two main characters seem to have priority over the action and, while their performances make for a compelling watch, there’s always the sense that your heart isn’t racing as much as you’d expect. Maybe that’s because the opening gave away just a little bit too much.

★★★

In UK cinemas March 27th / Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Josh Charles, Anders Danielsen Lie, Eamon Patrick O’Connell, Caroline Lagerfelt / Dir: Benoit Delhomme / StudioCanal / 15


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