A husband and wife live as recluses in an old house in the middle of the nowhere. He is fighting his writing block, she is redecorating the house. Time moves slowly, until, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door.
mother! was advertised as a horror movie, boasting a similar premise to Rosemary’s Baby, with a deranged husband and the sect that invade their private life. In fact mother! is something else entirely.
The film’s intriguing beginning immediately suggests it has a touch of the supernatural, but when a strange man (Ed Harris) enters the house in the middle of the night it moves into all too familiar home invasion movie territory. When the intruder’s chatty and not so classy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up on the front porch the next day things get darkly interesting. As the second half of the film kicks in, it becomes obvious where things are going. From that point on the movie's supposed unpredictability becomes its greatest flaw.
The film has fantastic performances. Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (seeing her in a new role is particularly great!) are all in top form. The emotions they are trying to convey are easy to relate to, but it is hard to place them in the context of the plot. There are so many elements in the film that mean or, maybe, don’t mean anything, that pop up into your head long after the credits roll. But as soon as you work out the main idea behind the plot you start figuring out the little clues and it’s a fun game to play. mother! is a film that keeps on giving. And unlike some of David Lynch’s movies there is a structure and a point to it all.
mother!, however, is more frustrating than fascinating, especially for those who came to see a horror film. It is provocative rather than thought provoking. At some point Arnofsky throws the plot-writing manual out of the window, but the disappointment comes when we realize the story he is telling is far too conventional.
I will finish with a riddle:
mother! is not a horror movie, but it is based on the scariest book ever written. It is an international bestseller. I will even give you another clue: it is not written by Stephen King!
If you solve this riddle you will know the secret of mother!