Venice Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence in ‘mother!’

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If the only thing we wanted, or expected, a horror film to do was to get a rise out of you — to make your eyes widen and your …

 

 

Darren Aronofsky’s head-trip horror movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence as a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoia, is dazzling on the surface, but what lies beneath? Maybe nothing.

If the only thing we wanted, or expected, a horror film to do was to get a rise out of you — to make your eyes widen and your jaw drop, to leave you in breathless chortling spasms of WTF disbelief — then Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” would have to be reckoned some sort of masterpiece. As it is, the movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoid could-this-be-happening? reality (she flushes a beating heart down the toilet; blood in the shape of a vagina melts through the floorboards; and oh, the wackjobs who keep showing up!), is far from a masterpiece. It’s more like a dazzlingly skillful machine of virtual reality designed to get nothing but a rise out of you. It’s a baroque nightmare that’s about nothing but itself.

Yet for an increasingly large swath of the moviegoing audience, that may be enough. “mother!” is often entertaining in a knowingly over-the-top, look-ma-no-hands! way. To ask for a film like this one to be more than it is — to ask for it to connect to experience in a meaningful way — may, at this point, seem quaint and old-fashioned and irrelevant. Considering the number of cruddy recycled horror movies made by hacks that score at the box office, the film is almost destined to be a success, maybe even a “sensation,” because Aronofsky is no hack — he’s a dark wizard of the cinematic arts. Yet his two greatest films, “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “The Wrestler” (2008), are both steeped in the human dimension, whereas “mother!” is a piece of ersatz humanity. Its dread has no resonance; it’s a hermetically sealed creep-out that turns into a fake-trippy experience. By all means, go to “mother!” and enjoy its roller-coaster-of-weird exhibitionism. But be afraid, very afraid, only if you’re hoping to see a movie that’s as honestly disquieting as it is showy.

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