Friday, 22 September 2017

Film Review - Mother! (18)

Please. Please make them go.
It's surely the biggest cinematic prank of this or any year... Audiences assemble at their local multiplex to see a major Paramount Studios release starring Jennifer Lawrence (you know, from The Hunger Games, Best Actress Oscar, wears swanky frocks on the red carpet every year, call her Mainstream Jen)... and get smacked full in the face by the insanity that is Mother! Yes - the film really earns that exclamation mark in its title.
There was no warning. The trailer, despite all my recent grumbling on that subject, totally misdirects. You'd think you were about to watch a standard 'something-nasty-in-the-cellar'-type horror movie. But nothing is ever standard about a film by writer/director Darren Aronovsky. And here he achieves a whole new level of crazy.

The plot - what to tell you? J-Law is living with her older poet husband (Javier Bardem) in an isolated country pile, which she's helping renovate while he struggles with his writer's block. A stranger (Ed Harris) knocks on the door and is ushered in, soon followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer!). Their behaviour is oddly intrusive. J-Law's husband is strangely accepting. She is feeling alienated in her own home. And there is something nasty in the cellar as it happens. And something even nastier in our minds as viewers. Because we sense that the peculiar home invasions and the weirdness are only just beginning.
This is an unsettlingly surreal experience, where our trust in all we see and hear is steadily undermined along with that of the protagonist. Aronovsky proved how freaky a soundscape could be in psychological ballet thriller (there aren't many of those) Black Swan; here he ups the ante, intensifying every noise in the house to match the increasingly bizarre occurrences and unnerving symbolism of the visuals. The young wife is an innocent, whose life is unaccountably turning into a (possibly literal) nightmare. We're perturbed along with her, as the camera lingers on her face or follows close behind, ramping up the sense of claustrophobia. The house that is supposed to be her haven from the world is under a very different kind of attack than anything you could possibly imagine. 
Lawrence is strong here, in an unforgiving role. She soaks up all the house's troubling secrets and events along with us, only occasionally blinking into the exterior sunlight. Bardem brings all the ambiguity you'd expect from him - empathetic at points, infuriating at other, with hints of a writer's preening self-regard. And every other face - including one or two which really surprise - are just there to mess further with your head.

Mother! is a film that builds incrementally but relentlessly into disconcerting strangeness and worse. It seems to plateau two thirds of the way in, and then you find it was just catching its breath at base camp, before a rapid ascent to the absolute summit of Mount Batshit. I was almost smirking at it for pretentiousness, before the final half hour took revenge and battered me into silence. 
If Aronovsky's Requiem for a Dream was despairing, this is full of anger - burning rage in fact. Mother! suggests a film-maker with one hell of a dark worldview right now, one who has the creative gift to let it all out in an astonishing, divisive way. To say more (if I had sufficient powers of description) would be to reveal too much. And that assumes you want to take on the craziest, most disorienting studio film of the season. Mother! may fill you with love or hate, but forgetting it simply won't be an option. You, if not those early audiences, have been warned.
Gut Reaction: I actually laughed at the end credits out of sheer relief. One of the cinema staff asked me if I liked it. I replied, 'I have no idea.' Then I stumbled home for a much-needed shot of single malt.

Ed's Verdict: It's bizarre, disturbing, brutal, baffling, symbolical, metaphorical, allegorical... and if you enjoy boundary-pushing cinema it's a must-see. Did I understand it? Bits. Did I like it? Give me another six months on that one.

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