Mother! review: Following the disappointing Noah, Darren Aronofsky returns to the surreal world he’s enjoyed, and had deep success before, for this hellish tale led by the superstar teaming of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

Mother! review by Paul Heath.

Mother review

Darren Aronofsky directs his first feature since the critically-mauled epic Noah with this very original tale which is as equally biblical as the aforementioned – an at times terrifying, hugely surreal motion picture that stays with you for days afterwards.

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence play an unnamed couple – referred to as simply ‘him’ and ‘mother’ – who both live alone in an old house in the country. The film opens in what seems to be the aftermath of a pretty damaging fire. Lawrence’s character spends her days re-decorating the place while Bardem’s author deals with a severe case of writer’s block.

The couple’s world changes when a mysterious stranger knocks late one evening. Ed Harris, credited simply as ‘Man’, has called by mistaking the house as a bed and breakfast. He accepts an offer from Bardem’s character to star the night, much to the dismay of Lawrence. Over the following few days, more and more people start turning up at the house, starting off a chain of events that severely affect the couple’s relationship and future forever.

Mother review

That plot synopsis scratches at the surface of this monster, sometimes hard to watch, affecting drama that is 100% pure Aronofsky absolutely at the top of his game.

The story is very difficult to get your head around, and it will have you constantly thinking and reading into the material all of the way through. What may be considered quite annoying by some is actually part of the film’s charm and why it works so well. It’s a movie to really throw yourself into – to read into it what you will and discuss at great length afterwards.

Of course, the cast are excellent, particularly Lawrence as the titular character, who excels in every scene that she’s in. Michelle Pfeiffer also deliciously plays the role of Harris’ slightly off-kilter, devilish wife and is truly wonderful to watch. Harris is solid, as too are the pairing of Brian and Domhnall Gleeson as sparring siblings, again referred to as younger brother and oldest son respectively.

Mother review

In terms of design, Aronofsky uses a lot of extreme close-ups of Lawrence’s face – the story very much being told from her character’s point of view. Frequent collaborator Matthew Libatique’s methodical cinematography is spellbinding and very much worthy of mention as one of the stand-outs in terms of the technical aspects of the film, as too is Andrew Weisblum’s exceptional editing.

As horrifying as it is surreal, mother! won’t sit well for everyone. It’s dark, nightmarish story is, in places, deeply upsetting, and its baffling story arch won’t please all. It’s a film to be absorbed, absolutely digested and then discussed thoroughly afterwards. It shares quite a lot with Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant The Neon Demon in both its tone and sheer divisiveness, and it absolutely matches the film in terms of quality too, the dark subject matter running through its bloody core.

Like Aronofsky’s previous Black Swan, of which this could be its dark cousin, this is a film to not necessarily enjoy, but to appreciate, and then go back in to discover its sheer inventiveness all over again.

One of the most pleasingly unique movies of the year that we very much recommend. Just don’t see it alone.

Mother! review by Paul Heath, September 2017

Mother! is released in UK cinemas on September 15th 2017, and also plays at the Toronto International Film festival.

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Mother!