Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer
House Party From Hell
With just six feature films under his belt, Darren Aronofsky is still one of the most innovative and striking directors working in Hollywood today. With his unique visual style he creates intimate stories which have the power to grip you by the throat until the very last shot. ‘Black Swan’ is probably my favourite film of the last decade so you can imagine my delight at discovering that Darren had been secretly filming Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem in a horror film for God knows how many months. It was a shock well worthy of the cheeky exclamation mark pegged onto the title. It looked as though Darren had returned to his melodramatic roots after spending years working on a forgettable biblical epic.
Although ‘Mother!’ also has biblical overtones, it’s perhaps less obvious than watching Noah’s ark rock around a stormy ocean. It is interesting to note, however the almighty split of opinions on Aronofsky’s latest work of art. People talk all the time about ‘marmite’ films, where critics and audiences alike seem to adore or outright detest a film for equally valid reasons and ‘Mother!’ is exactly that. Some find it tedious and ridiculous, whilst others find it gripping and intoxicating in the best possible way. I must admit that when I first saw the film, it completely went against my expectations and I was left sitting in a rare state of shock trying to process what I had just seen. Suffice to say that after about 10 minutes, my opinion landed directly on the ‘love it’ side of the fence.
The less you know about ‘Mother!’ the better the experience will be so I won’t delve into plot points. The biggest surprise for me was discovering how funny the film is. The trailers make it out to be like some sort of hardcore horror movie in the vein of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ meets ‘Repulsion’ but I was amazed to find myself laughing so much, particularly in the first half. The preposterousness of the situations make for darkly comic viewing in a similar kind of way to ‘Calvaire’ a Belgian horror film with equally pitch-black comedy. It could be mistaken for bad writing, but it’s entirely intentional. It all comes from the fact that J-Law’s character is presented as the only sane person who the audience can relate to, whereas pretty much every other character is totally unrelatable.
The film builds slowly but always intrigues. Just like Natalie Portman’s Nina in ‘Black Swan’ J-Law’s titular ‘Mother!’ character is always shown in tight close-ups with the camera intensely following her every move. It makes for claustrophobic and uncomfortable viewing at times, particularly as the action never moves away from the house, which makes the insane third act work even more effectively for it. The point of view is also very subjective, it’s made clear that Jennifer isn’t quite right in the head and we see all her strange and horrifying delusions as if we were in her shoes. It’s fantastically focused filmmaking (nice bit of alliteration there for you) which helps to build up the intensity.
The first half might seem more than a bit weird to most moviegoers but it isn’t anything compared to the hysterical second half which has to contain some of the most insane sequences ever committed to film. I won’t go into details but I was left feeling incredibly stressed and bemused which is exactly how the film wants you to feel. Visually it’s astonishing and some of the camerawork is dizzyingly terrific. It also contains some seriously shocking content which left my mouth agape and I’m someone who considers themselves to be a hardened horror nut. It’s the kind of big budget surrealism which is devastatingly lacking in Hollywood.
Of course none of it is supposed to be taken at face value and there are plenty of metaphors to chew over after the film has finished. It’s just a shame that Darren and Jennifer have been so open about what the film is actually about as it means that the sense of mystery has gone already. The film could’ve and should’ve been left up to interpretation. Directors such as David Lynch and Michael Haneke would never dream of telling audiences what their films are about because every audience member’s ideas are valid and have meaning to them. Anyhow, although the metaphors and symbolism are a little heavy-handed in the film, they are no less brilliant and intelligent.
It’s also worth mentioning the excellent performances in the film. Although that really doesn’t come as a surprise when you have heavyweights like Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer starring all in the same film. Each role is very challenging though and the fact that they all pulled each part off and made it believable is a credit to them. The real star of the show though is Darren Aronofsky whose directing style manages to unequivocally sweep audiences away on a mad, horrifying journey which isn’t soon forgotten. ‘Mother!’ is a very special film. It’s divisive but most great works of art are. You will get a strong reaction, no matter who you are or what that reaction might be.