Film Review: MOTHER! (2017)

MOTHER! ***** U.S.A. 2017 Dir: Darren Aronofsky 121 mins

“This is the sound of humanity…” Promoted as a straight forward genre picture and released a week after IT shattered box office records, writer-director Aronofsky’s latest genre-bending movie offers plenty of clues about the allegorical direction in which it is heading (“I wanna make a paradise…” notes unhappy wife Jennifer Lawrence early on) but also succeeds for a long time as a compelling study of one young woman’s psychological unravelling. Roman Polanski – specifically ROSEMARY’S BABY and REPULSION – is a prominent influence as we observe her decline while she fixes up her home and poet husband (Javier Bardem) strives to overcome his writers’ block.
A series of increasingly jarring uninvited guests – starting with chronically ill surgeon Ed Harris and his frosty wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) – triggers a turn of events that no one will see coming. Aronofsky’s self-described punk “fever dream” flirts frequently with the tropes and iconography of horror: several ominous trips to the basement, the appearance of something small and monstrous in the toilet bowl, the cliched jump scare involving a slowly closing fridge door, lightbulbs that fill with blood before exploding…and even the umpteenth replay of one specific shock moment from TENEBRAE (Aronofsky’s earlier BLACK SWAN having been a feature-length homage to Argento’s SUSPIRIA). Lawrence has the toughest role, required to be reactive for a considerable  portion of the film, but it’s a galvanising performance that reaches its apotheosis in the film’s astonishing final act. Shot largely with handheld cameras in 16mm and almost entirely confined to the house, the movie’s ultimate lament of our exploitation of Mother Earth is at the core of a balls-to-the-wall, visceral climax incorporating at least two of the most extreme moments in recent mainstream Hollywood history. It’s a bold, divisive picture, but arguably one of the year’s finest – and even the end credits are haunting thanks to Patti Smith’s cover version of “The End of the World”.

Review by Steven West

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