'Mother!' Review: Darren Aronofsky Directs Jennifer Lawrence To Total Madness [TIFF]

Note: There are some minor spoilers here, because it's almost impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling something.Don't you hate it when noisome houseguests won't take a hint? In mother!, the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, the prospect of unwanted company becomes immensely sinister and leads to much more chaotic results.Aronofsky is a filmmaker who gravitates towards stories about the destructive side of obsession, and here he takes that theme to the extreme and then takes it even further. But the twist here is that the story isn't being told from the point of view of the obsessive, destructive individual, but rather from someone in his orbit.How on earth to even begin talking about this movie? mother! is practically daring film critics from its very first scene, which wastes no time in letting the audience know that there's a potentially supernatural element to the story. Javier Bardem, playing a poet known only in the credits as Him, strolls through the burned-out ruins of a house, and then triggers something that literally peels back time, creating the house anew. Things only get weirder from there.Him lives in his isolated farmhouse with his much younger wife, referred to simply as Mother in the credits. As played by Jennifer Lawrence, Mother is a self-centered man's dream – she has no friends, she has no outside interests, she has no career. She simply lives to love her husband and help fix up his childhood home. If Lawrence's character is unhappy in her life of servitude, she certainly doesn't show it. But her perceived bliss begins to erode when a mysterious man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door. He claims to have thought the house was a bed and breakfast, and rather than turn him away, Bardem's poet invites him to stay.One unexpected guest was bad enough for Lawrence's character, but it's nothing compared to what's coming. The mysterious man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives the next day and proceeds to make Mother very uncomfortable. And then Harris and Pfeiffer's sons (Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson) show up to complicate matters further.Up until this point, mother! plays out like a domestic thriller with a potentially supernatural bent. If you've seen a million horror movies, you might think you have a somewhat good idea of what's going to happen next.Well, you're wrong.  

Aronofsky unleashes a seismic shift that's so bonkers and so unexpected that it might just knock you on your ass if you're not paying close attention. From here, mother! Proceeds to descend into utter chaos, with things growing increasingly unpleasant inside the house, building towards a brutal, nasty conclusion.Lawrence, unfortunately, is miscast in the lead. A talented actress in her own right, much of what Lawrence's character does here depends on internalization, and the actress seems incapable of getting the nuanced complexities across. Instead, she spends almost the entire film rushing from one scene to the next and whimpering at other characters, repeating phrases like "Stop!" and "What are you doing?!" and "No, wait!" over and over again, to the point that it begins to become exhausting. Not helping things are the scenes that Lawrence shares with Pfeiffer, a phenomenal actress giving a delightfully wicked performance.Aronofsky is working an allegory here, daring his audience to peel back the veneer of his house of horrors and find the metaphorical subtext underneath. This approach is a bit of a miscalculation on Aronofsky's part: one gets the sense that this film thinks it's much more clever than it really is, and that there's really not much more to read into the events than what's on the surface. You also can't help but roll your eyes at some of the heavy-handedness of the metaphors Aronofsky is dealing in.Still, it's hard not to at least appreciate a film that is so wholly committed to going insane. The last stretch of mother! is an anarchic nightmare, filled with scenes that appear to be trying to one-up each other in terms of shocking material. Aronofsky's script doesn't pull its punches, and the horrific imagery begins to come fast and furious, one shocking moment on top of another, to the point that you might find yourself dizzy from it all.By the time the end credits roll on mother!, you're either going to be on board with the lunacy Aronofsky is selling, or you'll be annoyed at how thick he laid it all on. At the very least, though, you won't be bored. And you'll likely not want any visitors dropping by your house unannounced any time soon.  /Film Rating: 7 out of 10