#133) Movie review: “mother!”

“mother!”, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem and directed by Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), opening in wide release today, is a horror film that is not a sequel, remake, reboot or origin story. That’s the good news. Whether or not there is bad news depends on the expectations of the viewer.

Lawrence and Bardem live in a Gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere. Lawrence, who is known to the viewer simply as “mother”, is renovating the place while Bardem’s character, “Him”, is a writer who is searching for inspiration in the peace and quiet of the countryside. Of course, in the horror canon, peace and quiet usually portend approaching peril and the early scenes of the film are filled with awkward silence. We are waiting for disaster, but when the couple receives a visitor who turns out to be a sickly doctor (Ed Harris) who mistakenly thought their house was a bed and breakfast, we think, surely this can’t be the villain, can he?

The plot thickens the next morning when the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. She is an overbearing harpy who makes Larry David look charming. But she’s too awkward and unlikable to be the villain – after all the scariest villains are the ones who know how to get in our good graces. So who, exactly, is the villain and who is the victim?

“mother!” is a battle between plot and style. The suspense is there: most of the information is withheld and the little pieces we get only beg more questions. We sense that not everything is right with the marriage but that feeling comes less from the few tense exchanges between them than it does from long, uncomfortable close-ups of Lawrence’s placid eyes and Bardem’s brooding face and from seemingly mundane dialogue that is mixed to sound as if it is echoing from far away.

Where the movie may lose some viewers however is when it becomes excessive. Yes, Aronofsky has set the stage for horror and he must deliver, but the supernatural elements seem more like an exercise, disconnected from the characters and their circumstances. One is left asking, “What’s the point?” No, not all horror films have to have a point, but by its climax, “mother!” has become more about showing off its own weird universe than providing thrills and chills or provoking thought. We could analyze possible interpretations – but we just don’t care enough.

Ultimately, “mother!” is like a buffet at a high end casino: it offers a variety of delicacies that will keep you engaged, but when you’re done it’s not very satisfying or memorable.

 

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