By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
The unexpectedly allegorical and eventually overwhelming “Mother!” is a bizarre hybrid of nightmarish surrealism, sly social satire, psychological terror and cellar-dark humor. It’s basically a two-hour art-horror version of the classic Monty Python skit “The Visitors,” in which a couple’s home is invaded by increasingly obnoxious and destructive uninvited guests, reframed as a creepy metaphor about the perils of fame, the insidiousness of religion and the egotism inherent in artistic creation. If director/writer Darren Aronofsky’s brutally gritty “Requiem for a Dream” and his incomprehensibly loopy “The Fountain” had a baby, in other words, it would look a lot like “Mother!”
(That exclamation point is part of the title, by the way, possibly to distinguish it from the Albert Brooks comedy “Mother”—which certainly would make an interesting double-feature companion to this far less family-friendly film.)
None of the characters have names, which is a story conceit that may have worked better if not for places where characters who are introduced to each other for the first time obviously would exchange them. That anonymity may be because everyone here is supposed to be an archetype: the martyr-like muse, the self-involved writer, the ineffectual father, the wicked mother, the sinister sons and the oppressive unwashed masses.
The adoring woman-child wife (lushly radiant Jennifer Lawrence) of an old-enough-to-be-her-dad poet (believably detached Javier Bardem) live in an isolated country house that she has been restoring following a fire. When a smilingly insinuating but vaguely threatening older stranger (the perfectly cast Ed Harris) with a persistent cough appears on their doorstep claiming he thought they had a room for rent, Poet invites him to spend the night, despite Mrs. Poet’s wariness.
Mrs. Poet is even more upset when Cougher’s brash, nasty other half (a viciously catty Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, followed by their ferociously argumentative grown sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson). Things quickly go from bad to much, much worse, resulting in the spilling of blood that apparently has the same acidic quality as that of the creature in “Alien,” judging from how it eats through the floorboards.
Are hellish scenes like that actually Mrs. Poet’s passive-aggressive hallucinations, fragments of an extremely unpleasant dream, or psychotic reactions to that yellow stuff from the medicine-cabinet that she takes whenever she gets a gut-pain? Or is she just plain nuts? And what the **** is that bloody organ (or organism) in the toilet?
Mrs. Poet goes from confused to exasperated to horrified by hubby’s further acts of inexplicable hospitality, as he refuses to evict increasingly irritating interlopers despite their escalating offenses. What starts out as her slow-burning annoyance at his oblivious inconsideration for her feelings grows into distrust, anger and outright fear.
Aronofsky goes completely over the top in the film’s high-firepower final act, which is wildly violent, unrelentingly intense and includes what may be the year’s single most shockingly disturbing scene. An ambiguous reality-bending ending somehow seems like a perfectly fitting finale to this offbeat ordeal. In a mystifyingly mental movie this stylish and strange, making sense is beside the point.
Even if this metaphysical mash-up isn’t your cup of mud (and there’s a better than even chance it won’t be, especially if you go in expecting a conventional horror flick), “Mother!” is audaciously outrageous enough that you definitely won’t forget it.