Darren Aronofsky has consistently proved himself as a director who knows how to engage with dark and twisted source material. You only need to look at works such as Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan as evidence that he can make you engaged with some of the most disturbing behaviour on screen. Though he verges into the pretentious at times he frequently shows his mettle with his films. This made his new film mother! an exciting prospect – the trailer (you know, the one released literally about a month before the film was released) promised a freaky twisted psychological horror film that would get under your skin and be packed with plenty of violence. This couldn’t possibly fail, right?
Oh, how foolish your assumptions are.
It turns out that the trailer for mother! was incredibly deceiving – it’s not a full on horror film at all, rather a dark allegory for biblical tales and environmental issues. The film follows ‘Mother’ (Jennifer Lawrence) who has moved into a new house with her husband (Javier Bardem). Their lives are turned upside down when a mysterious man (Ed Harris) stumbles across their house looking for a place to stay, leading to more and more individuals to arrive over time, disrupting the sanctity of Mother’s life. Then that plot abruptly ends when they leave – following that Mother gets pregnant and her husband writes a bestseller, where they proceed to get swamped with devoted fans of the book and leads to far more disturbing things happening.
These two plots are clearly meant to be allegorical for the separate books of the Bible – the Old and New Testaments – and a fair number of incidents that occur echo stories in the Bible. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters have sons played by Brian and Domnhall Gleeson who are meant to be Cain and Abel, for instance. But the problem with this is that it means that mother! has two separate storylines that clang together without any rhyme or reason, the second half feeling basically like a slightly bloodier repeat of the first. This makes the film feel painfully stitched together and makes you wonder if it would have been far better to focus on one storyline and expand it out in a more detailed manner (for reference, Harris and Pfeiffer drop out of the story after the first hour without fanfare, making you wonder what their entire purpose was). Were this to be the case, the second half would have been better thanks to the thuddingly dull nature of the first half where nothing of value really happens. What’s worse is that the religious parallels for Mother and her husband become jumbled as a result of trying to focus on drawing similarities to both books of the Bible (Mother choppily becomes similar to Mary in the second half after it being unclear who she’s meant to be for the first half) and as a consequence gives neither of them strong personalities, effectively making them empty vessels for the plot to happen to.
Additionally these religious parallels, as well as the environmental parallels, feel clunky and heavy handed; Aronofsky is trying to clearly show how clever he is for putting them in there but it’s just so obvious that it comes across as shallow and smug. This is before we account for the fact that despite the fact that mother! was marketed as a horror film it’s astounding how not scary the film is, and how there’s no real tension to it – the plot is very obviously signposted and there’s no surprises until near the end where it takes a turn into the absolutely bizarre when Mother effectively becomes an earthquake (it’s as dumb as it sounds). As such this makes mother! a hollow film as there’s just nothing to really keep you on the edge of your seat or really wonder about what will happen despite the fact that it seems to believe that it’s the smartest and deepest film of all time. The failure of the film is not the fault of the cast – all of the cast members do strong jobs all round, with Pfeiffer’s darkly seductive performance being probably the best. And despite falling flat on his arse with the screenplay Aronofsky’s direction is overall good, with lots of loving shots of the beautiful yet haunting scenery of the house, although he does overindulge in the facial zoom-ins all throughout the movie to the point where you’ll get fed up of seeing these actors faces. mother! therefore isn’t totally deficient – it’s just let down by its poor writing.
mother! stands as being Darren Aronofsky’s worst film yet – a tedious stroll in the first half of the movie and a clusterfuck of craziness (and not in a good way) in the second half, feeling like a Frankenstein’s monster of two similar yet different films thrown together, trying to be a jack of both trades and ending up as a master of bugger all. It’s remarkable how the film isn’t tense, scary or mind twisting at all despite the fact that it comes from the same man who did Requiem for a Dream and the dreadfully ham-fisted parallels to the Bible and the environment makes you wonder whether or not Aronofsky started letting his reputation go to his head. It’s not totally unsalvageable thanks to a strong set of performances from the cast and a solid aesthetic – if the film focused more on one solid storyline, toned down its allegorical nature and increased the horror and made it more gradual throughout the film instead of just chucking it right at the end right out of nowhere then mother! could have been a psychological horror goldmine. But as it stands it’s ultimately a displeasing film, with its misleading advertising screwing over the people who expected strong dark thrills from the trailers (to the point where mother! is one of the rare films to get the dreaded ‘F’ rating from Cinemascore) and bashing a heavy-handed tale onto their skulls whilst not delivering any strong horror or plot to really satiate anyone but the most hardcore of Aronofsky fans. Avoid.
mother! – written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, produced by Aronofsky, Scott Franklin and Ari Handel, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domnhall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig. A Protozoa Pictures production, a Paramount Pictures film