Mother! (2017)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristen Wiig, Brian Gleeson, Domnhall Gleeson

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Rating: 1 2 and a half

So when I heard Mother! described on the radio as 'the most wtf film of the year' like that was a good thing, I decided I needed to come at this one cold. No prior reading of reviews, no watching trailers, nothing. I wanted my brain to fry.

Hmmm. Consider me burned – but not perhaps in the way I'd expected.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem in Mother!

Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a celebrated poet (Javier Bardem). His family home has been destroyed by fire but she has restored it, apparently all by herself, while he struggles with writer's block.

I would say they live alone, but the house itself is palpably a third person in the relationship: huge, sprawling, creaky, isolated and twisted as the House on Haunted Hill, its walls seem to breathe dark secrets into Lawrence's ears as she tiptoes round her grumpy artist husband, cooking him meals and clearing up after him while he huffs and puffs over a blank sheet of paper, fountain pen in hand.

But clearly her wide-eyed adoration and devotion is not enough, and when a grizzled stranger (Ed Harris) turns up unannounced, the husband welcomes him into their home. Next thing his wife pitches up (a brilliantly bitchy, louche and inappropriate Michelle Pfeiffer) then their sons appear and before you can say High-Rise it's all gone to hell in a handcart and the wife's beautiful house is trashed. And we're still only halfway through the movie...

Michelle Pfeiffer in Mother!

What is this film about then? A Dorian Gray portrait of a dysfunctional marriage? A Life of Brian satire about men who aren't the Messiah? A weird religious allegory about climate change? (No, I didn't get that either.) Pulses beat in the walls, there's something gross in the toilet and a hole in the floorboards gapes like a bloody wound. But the sub-Cronenberg body horror isn't the nightmare here; it's the wife's desperate helplessness in the face of a home invasion, which starts with the middle class problem of how to tell people they can't smoke in your house and ends up a Bruegelesque depiction of hell, Abigail's Party with added riot police.

We're so 100% on the wife's side we begin to doubt her. She knocks back orange powdered medicine when upset: does she suffer from mental health issues? Is she hallucinating? Or is she simply addicted to Berocca? At one point she seems to add the powder to the plaster she applies to the walls, as if literally curing herself through her dedication to making the house 'a paradise'. But is she the perfect helpmeet she seems, or an over-possessive, suffocatingly jealous child bride who can't bear her husband to have friends?

And why, why, WHY the jaunty exclamation mark?

In a way, with its looming extreme close ups (gosh, Jennifer Lawrence has beautiful skin!) and disconcerting echoing surround sound (gosh, Jennifer Lawrence has a heavy tread!) Mother! is a brilliant portrayal of extreme psychological stress. But then it all just gets ridiculous, and then horrible, and then you're tired of watching poor Jennifer Lawrence suffer and you just want the whole damn mess to be over so you can get home and check that no-one's sitting on your sink.

Claustrophobic and panic-inducing, it’s Repulsion meets Rosemary's Baby meets Night of the Living Dead, with shades of Ken Russell’s Tommy thrown in for good measure, yet it's not nearly as good as any of these films – and, 40 years on, the sexual politics have barely progressed either. With fresh new horror films like Raw and Killing Ground centring on strong, complex, female characters, it's boring and depressing to watch a nice, beautiful woman so utterly subservient to an arrogant, self-centred man. And the implication that Bardem's narcissistic, self-absorbed character may be some kind of god, creating a world then letting it fall to pieces around him, is frankly a little bit sickening.

I suspected this film might be a bit love or loathe, but to be honest I wouldn't go to either extreme (it's no Neon Demon, thankfully). Really I'm just left thinking... whatever. Not even wtf.

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