Review: Mother! (2017)

The latest directorial effort by Darren Aronofsky  (The Wrestler, Black Swan) and probably his most ambitiously artistic one since The Fountain (2006), Mother! is more of a Greek Tragedy than a Horror Movie. The characters remain nameless as the story unfolds in a manner that rides the line between reality and metaphor, present more as archetypes than actual fleshed out characters and primarily there to serve as a stimulus for the mother, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance is one of the biggest positives of the film; it’s nuanced when it needs to be, and forceful when she needs to focus the audience’s attention, all the while maintaining a believable and grounded element while the world around her descends more and more into the surreal. The other actors in the film also do a fantastic job at balancing these elements, with Javier Bardem delivering a performance that’s soothing and sinister all at once, and Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s unwanted house-guests deeply reinforcing the tense tone of the film.
Definitely an art film above all else, Mother! is rich with horror and suspense elements, like the spiking tension and the minimalist soundtrack, but by the end they’ve all given way to this grandiose dreamlike setting which plays by it’s own rules and has it’s own distinct tone and feeling. The trailers and marketing don’t do a great job communicating this, and whilst the film might be a disappointment for those who go into the theater looking for a good scare there’s more than enough substance to make watching it enjoyably even for the enthused. The problem arises towards the last twenty or so minutes of the film when Aronofsky throws all subtlety out the window and cakes the screen with loud and brash imagery. It’s a bit of a disappointment considering how well he handles the first two acts, and this sudden shift in perspective will probably leave most people a bit baffled as they leave the theater, even though the visual metaphor at work isn’t difficult to decipher.
Although it never goes so far as to totally destroy the efforts of the first two thirds of the film, Mother! gets downright heavy handed with it’s imagery towards the end, especially when the biblical allegories start flying all over the place. It never becomes uninteresting, but when the scenery and the action starts to take the focus away from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem it starts to seem like the film doesn’t believe that it’s communicated it’s own message well. The loud brashness of this later approach contrasts with the earlier anxious tone, in part produced by the framing of the movie, which is done in a wonderfully effective and unsettling manner. The camera is constantly shaking and quivering, but in such slight movements as to never mask what’s in the frame, and this does a fantastic job in creating a palpable feeling of unease throughout. However in the lasts ten minutes of the film the camera join in with the plot and starts darting and turning all over the place, and coupled with the garishness and overblown imagery, it gives the film a bitter aftertaste.
Mother! is certainly an odd film by any definition, and it most likely won’t cater well to most people’s taste, which makes recommending it difficult. It’s got a great cast who deliver outstanding performances, a distinct and well placed visual style that makes the film great to look at, an extremely thick feeling of anxiety throughout, and at it’s best is very reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968). It also falls short in it’s goals and suffers from being disjointed and disorienting at times, making it slightly challenging to sit through. Go see it if you’re a fan of art films or are just looking for something that’s a little weird and doesn’t try to make too much sense, but give it a miss if you’re looking for two hours of a good time.


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