Most years are very uneven for horror films, but this year is much the same. For every Get Out there’s a Rings, for every It there’s a The Bye Bye Man. Then there’s Darren Aronofsky’s new film mother!. It’s a difficult film to talk about, because the less one knows the better, but suffice to say it’s not likely there will be a film like this out this year.
It’s easy to praise this cast, who all naturally ooze charisma, be it the bedraggled and constantly upset Jennifer Lawrence, in a vague reprise of her Katniss Everdeen role, or Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer all playing up their roles which wrong foot us at every turn. But ti’s not really a film about performances – though Lawrence’s anchors the film through it’s harder moments. It’s a film of mood and images.
It’s important that there’s no musical score to the film, that the soundrack is made up of loud noises, foot steps, and conversations. There’s no doubting Aronofsky’s ability to tell a story — as his back catalogue shows — and his crew are working at the top of their game, but unlike his previous works, mother! is much more insular. It’s hard to enjoy the film when it puts up barriers, the hardest thus far to get into and enjoy. But, perhaps this is the point, it’s about to be stubborn of unrelenting.
Given Hollywood’s love for phallic symbolism (just look at the Alien films and their obsession with knobs), it’s nice to see a film that is obsessed vulvic symbolism (basically everything looks like a lady garden). It’s no coincidence that the blood spot on the floor looks like a vagina, people are constantly drinking from cups, the house is round, and door knobs are broken off.
It’s also a film that wants you to feel uneasy, it’s not enough that the conversations all seem on the verge of turning into arguments, that there’s more use of the C word in this film that a Scouse wedding. It’s about the escalation of the near hysterical biblical elements of the film, for those who look – and not hard – will see images of the bible in creation, nature, Genesis, Revelations and so on. But that’s not to say it is an overtly religious film to begin with, but it becomes it over the two hours. It’s gradual a building of problems and a mood of despair.
When the film works best, it’s desired effect is best illustrated in someone unable to stop people mistreating their home, being angry that they don’t care what they do to the environment (perhaps Lawrence’s mother is mother nature…), and the slow escalation of people being in the way; going into bedrooms is what works to Aronofsky’s desired effect. However, it’s not an enjoyable experience, it’s oppressive. However, as the film builds towards it’s bonkers finale it becomes more intriguing and more fun. It becomes Python-esc as wall explode and the army roll in.
From a director like Aronofsky it’s hard to go in expecting anything at all, but with a trailer that promises to mess you up and stay with you, it’s hard not to be disappointed. It’s not a mess you up style film, it’s a lingering confusion type of film. This will go down with Aronfosky’s The Fountain, divisive. Some will find deep meaning, and love the poetry of the film. But others will tire of it’s meandering and frankly overwrought climax. It’s much like the culmination of his previous works, it’s a strange and rogue as The life of Pi but not nearly as clever, it’s as harrowing as Requiem for a Dream but it lacks the profound human centre, it has the sillyness of The Fountain but none of it’s emotional depth, the religious strikes of Noah but lacks the arresting visual moments.
It’s nowhere near his two best works, it isn’t as enjoyable as The Wrestler nor as darkly bizarre as his masterpiece Black Swan, but it has its moments. It’s a technical triumph more than an overall hit, it tries for what it wants, but in the end it’s not very good. Neither psychological horror or biblical metaphor. Lawrence manages to channel her inner Streep while Aronofsky goes for Polanski, but the film just isn’t consistent enough to marry any of the warring elements.