Mother! re­view & Film Club deals

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Demetrios Matheou

THE Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Darren Aronof­sky doesn’t do any­thing by halves. His most per­sonal films, such as Re­quiem For A Dream and Black Swan, play like wak­ing night­mares – fever­ish, dis­turb­ing, driven by in­sane en­ergy. With its ex­cla­ma­tion mark lead­ing the way, Mother! adds a de­gree of tongue-incheek to its horror palette, but it doesn’t make the ex­pe­ri­ence any less strange or in­tense.

It starts with the strik­ing im­age of a young woman’s face wrapped in flames – just in case we thought we were about to watch a rom­com or a com­edy about par­ent­hood. Then the screen calms, to a lovely sunny morn­ing and an un­named cou­ple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bar­dem) in a beau­ti­ful, iso­lated house in the coun­try­side. He is a poet with writer’s block, she his young wife, who has ren­o­vated her hus­band’s house sin­gle-hand­edly in the hope of pro­vid­ing him with the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment in which to re­dis­cover his mojo.

So while she serenely puts the fin­ish­ing touches to the in­te­ri­ors, he mood­ily scrab­bles around for in­spi­ra­tion. It’s not go­ing well, which may ex­plain his en­thu­si­asm when a stranger (Ed Har­ris) calls at the house one evening, claim­ing to have been told that it’s a B&B. Lawrence smells a rat, but Bar­dem in­vites him to stay.

The next morn­ing the new­comer’s in­tim­i­dat­ing wife (Michelle Pfeif­fer) ar­rives and also makes her­self at home. The idyll is well and truly de­stroyed.

The film’s per­spec­tive is en­tirely that of Lawrence’s sweet, lov­ing, in­creas­ingly freaked out wife.

The cam­era is ei­ther closeup on the ac­tress’s face, over her shoul­der, or show­ing us what she’s see­ing. What we ex­pe­ri­ence, then, is her grow­ing be­wil­der­ment, anx­i­ety and even­tu­ally fear as more and more peo­ple ar­rive – all warmly greeted by her hus­band – and vi­o­lent chaos de­scends upon her home.

The ques­tion of what, ex­actly, is hap­pen­ing is what gives the film its com­pelling edge. There’s some­thing of Harold Pin­ter’s men­ace in Har­ris and Pfeif­fer’s ap­palling pair, the wheez­ing and wheedling man a pro­fessed fan of the writer, his wife hit­ting the liquor cab­i­net and push­ing for de­tails of her hosts’ sex life. At the same time, just as Black Swan evoked Ro­man Polan­ski’s Repul­sion, this has a pow­er­ful, de­monic whiff of Polan­ski’s Rose­mary’s Baby about it; has the poet made a pact with the devil in ex­change for a few lines of verse?

Or is Aronof­sky just throw­ing us red her­rings? Af­ter all, a di­rec­tor whose imag­i­na­tion is ev­ery bit as fer­tile and per­verse as Polan­ski’s could well have his own ideas about the house guests from hell.

Aronof­sky is a di­vi­sive, love or loathe fig­ure, and I don’t ex­pect this film to be any dif­fer­ent. Some may feel that its con­clu­sion is too self-in­dul­gent or ridicu­lous, or that the pas­sage of the film that brings its ti­tle into play – and which prob­a­bly earned its 18 cer­tifi­cate – is in very bad taste. But Aronosky’s gifts as a film­maker, no­tably for build­ing creepy ten­sion and vi­su­al­is­ing ex­treme psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tur­bance, are given full ex­pres­sion here. One se­quence of cult-in­duced car­nage is so fright­en­ing and so su­perbly chore­ographed as to take your breath away. And as a mad al­le­gory about the cre­ative urge, Mother! has a baroque bril­liance about it.

Lawrence car­ries the weight of the film with a per­for­mance that is al­most en­tirely re­ac­tive; I wouldn’t be sur­prised if she was kept in the dark about some of the shocks around the cor­ner. And Bar­dem, best known for sin­is­ter bad guys such as his Os­car-win­ning psy­chopath in No County For Old Men, is per­fectly enig­matic as an artist with an un­healthy will­ing­ness to in­dulge his fans.

Pho­to­graph: PA

Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!

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