It’s finally October, and if you’re anything like me, you celebrate Halloween by curling up on the couch to watch your favorite horror films. In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I’ll continue reviewing one scary, suspenseful, or otherwise spooky movie for you each week for the whole month of October. Over fall break, I saw “mother!,” the latest film from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky has a reputation for making super disturbing films, which I was well aware of before I saw “mother!” Unfortunately, I soon realized I was not as prepared for this one as I’d previously thought.
Jennifer Lawrence plays mother, a young woman married to Him (Javier Bardem), an acclaimed poet suffering from writer’s block. (No one in the film is ever referred to by name, but each actor’s character is given one in the credits.) The couple lives in Him’s enormous childhood home in the country, which mother has been restoring and renovating after a devastating fire in the hopes of turning it into a “paradise.” One evening, a stranger, Man (Ed Harris), shows up at their house, claiming that he is new in town and was told that they run a bed and breakfast. Much to mother’s dismay, Him forgives the misunderstanding and lets Man stay with them for the time being. The next day, Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives to join her husband, and Him again warmly welcomes her into their home. Their guests’ lack of boundaries, manners, and honesty all contribute to mother’s growing feelings of frustration and helplessness as an unwilling host. As time passes, more guests—family members and friends of Man and Woman, as well as Him’s fans—flock to the property, eventually creating chaos, destruction, and mass hysteria, all against the backdrop of mother’s once-idyllic home.
I definitely think that, once again, Aronofsky succeeded in crafting an atmosphere that slowly, strategically made viewers uneasy. While “mother!” definitely belongs in the horror category, it’s not your typical slasher film with cheap jump scares and a murderous villain; instead, the scare tactics are psychological in nature. The scenes that really made me nervous were the ones in which everything seemed to be going smoothly for once—Him and mother finding out they’re going to be parents, or Him finally finishing a poem he’d worked on for months—because I knew something terrible was about to happen.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only thing Aronofsky managed to pull off. The heavy-handed Biblical allegories—mother is portrayed as Mother Earth to Him’s God, Man is Adam to Woman’s Eve, etc.—were one thing, but what bothered me the most was the amount of things that happened for nothing other than shock value. I really don’t like spoiling movies for people, but I feel compelled to warn you that “mother!” is incredibly graphic in nature, and contains violent murder (including that of a child), a barely consensual sex scene, misogynistic abuse, and, uh, cannibalism. It doesn’t make much sense to me that someone as talented as Aronofsky felt the need to resort to lazy storytelling (although it should be noted here that he reportedly wrote the script in just five days).
I didn’t have high hopes whatsoever about this one—I only saw it because the ads I saw on YouTube looked intriguing—but it still sucked to be let down by a director I know can do better. Honestly, I would strongly recommend that you not see this movie, unless you have extra money to blow, two hours to kill, and simply want to be entertained. I gotta say, I never thought I’d see a movie that was more messed-up than “The Neon Demon,” but “mother!” was hellbent on proving me wrong.