In case you were feeling too comfortable at the cinemas, writer-director-producer Darren Aronofsky is here to make people’s heads explode just from the mere sight of his latest offering, mother!. This arty horror is his first film since 2014’s Noah, and his fascination with religion continues. Aronofsky brought on board more big names – Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are present to take viewers on a weird and dangerous ride. Written and directed by Aronofsky, mother! will likely be remembered as one of the most wtf films of 2017.

Lawrence plays a domesticated housewife whose unrivaled devotion to her poet husband (Bardem) will be put to the test. Bardem has writer’s block, which he acquired after his remote country home burned down – with his previous wife in it. Credited simply as Mother, Lawrence serves as a catalyst for Bardem’s Him to move on from his tragedy and begin a new life with his new partner. But this tightly woven relationship begins to unravel when a strange doctor (Harris) appears on their doorstep. Without discussing the matter first, Bardem’s poet unexpectedly gives the doctor room and board, and quickly paranoia and tension build within Lawrence. After that weird first encounter, the doctor’s wife (Pfeiffer) arrives, and things get weirder. Using tight shots and balance shifts, audiences see from Lawrence’s perspective just how uncomfortable and pained she is, and it’s only a matter of time before it grows into something much worse.

If there is one certainty with Aronofsky, he has an innate ability to make audiences squirm. He loves to deal with paranoia and showcases that so well in his work it wouldn’t be an Aronofsky film without it. This time around Aronofsky tinkers with the Adam and Eve motif and posits it within a story which borrows from The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby. His latest is a tension-filled horror story which will leave viewers gasping and talking for years to come. This is likely Aronofsky’s most audacious work since 2006’s The Fountain, but it may also be his most pretentious.

Conceptually, mother! seems to do well early on, but as the tension increases the entire production becomes an endurance test. How much unease can one stand before it’s enough? That seems to be the question Aronofsky took with him into production, and in turn he found a myriad of creative ways to confuse and mistreat Mother.

To be honest, Mother is so thinly-written that without Lawrence the character would have nothing for audiences to latch on to. There are issues with Mother – she loves unconditionally and it’s obvious Bardem doesn’t love his current wife nearly as much; and she seems to be motivated only by fixing up the house, an allegory that also serves to explain her role in their relationship. There are problems within their marriage, issues which Pfeiffer’s character deftly picks up on – all while enjoying more than her fair share of adult beverages. In all, it seems Aronofsky used typical tropes to paint Mother’s persona, and it heightens the film’s misogyny.

What that means is that performances are strong - that is one aspect I have no issues with. Lawrence breathes life into a two-dimensional role and her trauma looks and feels genuine. Bardem has always had this quiet, confident charm (best seen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and it radiates towards everyone who crosses his path (in fact, much of Mother’s stress comes at the expense of Him’s inviting persona). And Pfieffer still knows how to bring it. She’s a scene-stealer despite the fact her character is mostly insufferable and difficult.

Aronofsky’s latest is a classic example of an auteur overindulging. This is part supernatural horror and part religious allegory, but in my opinion it’s all garbage and nonsense. Tack on an unnecessary and terribly violent scene during the third act and the result is a feature which will be showered with praise from critics only because it’s written and directed by a renowned artist. If mother! were created by someone else it would likely be hated by both audience and critics, and be considered an Aronofsky ripoff. In this case, the critics are wrong – common sense and good taste should and will take precedence.

Watch mother! at your own risk. I typically enjoy features that push boundaries but mother! lacks sense and tact. It provides no entertainment value and merely exists to shock and garner strong reactions. Coming from that perspective it accomplished its goal because I strongly dislike this and I guarantee audiences will also hate this divisive movie.

2 stars out of 5

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