After the underwhelming Noah, it came as a relief to hear the next film from Darren Aronofsky would be a horror film staring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The combination of talent assembled for mother! is certainly impressive, and though they all shine individually, the final product is a let down. It’s a bit of an anomaly- how can a movie have excellent direction, acting and cinematography yet be such a mess? The best answer I can come up with is that this is a prime example of ostentatious filmmaking.
Though mother! certainly has more redemptive qualities in terms of narrative, the experience as a whole rekindled the same disappointment of Crimson Peak. I had faith in the film all the way to the end credits, yet walked away thinking, “That’s it?!” Déjà vu all over again.
mother! isn’t all bad, so I’ll start with what works- Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence drops in the best lead performance by an actress in a horror-thriller since Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. She is captivating throughout the entire film. Whether you’re rolling with the plot or not, there’s no question that she’s all in here and was certainly worth the price of admission. Aronofsky utilizes close-ups on his lead with obvious admiration, allowing her to carry the film evenly through both the calm moments and the chaos.
The rest of the cast is stellar as well. Javier Bardem has an extraordinarily nuanced performance as he manages to make the unorthodox approach of his character just reasonable enough that you don’t completely dismiss him. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer round out the central cast and are scene chewing as they fluster and antagonize through two-thirds of the movie.
I mention two-thirds because that’s about how long mother! holds it together. There’s a House of the Devil and Rosemary’s Baby quality to this section of mother! and, while it’s slow to get to the point, there’s enough to keep you intrigued. I’ll go as far as to say with a competent, intense, and cohesive third act, we would be talking about a modern genre classic.
There’s certainly some intensity, but unfortunately the third act of mother! is anything but cohesive or competent. The slow burn approach isn’t just increased, it’s unceremoniously booted and replaced with a frenzied fever dream pace that feels out of place. There is a shit ton to process visually, but it boils down to a lot of style over substance with no concern given to plot explanation or character motivation.
I appreciate movies that make you think and don’t necessarily spell out their endings so everyone can walk away taking a slightly different experience with them. mother! is absolutely open to many interpretations, and there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered. However, the film as it stands doesn’t warrant investing the time to ask those questions. Perhaps I just expected something more.
Either way, I’m far less curious about unraveling the mysteries of mother! than I am about what the next project is for Aronofsky. Let’s hope it’s something that will erase his post Black Swan cold streak.