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‘Mother!’ Venice Film Festival Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem screened at the Venice Film Festival on Tuesday, and the first wave of reviews brought out mixed responses from critics who aimed to capture their “WTF” reactions.

In the movie, Lawrence and Bardem are a couple who suddenly receive uninvited guests to their remote country home. Reviews almost unanimously brought up the house itself, which appears to be alive, as well as the unusual formatting of the title itself. Critics seem to agree “Mother!,” while capturing political and religious undertones, could very well be an allegory of Aronofsky’s own life being married to a famous egocentric artist. In short, they recognize “Mother!” is deserving of its billing as a horror movie.

“Mother!” has its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival before it opens in theaters on Sept. 15.

Here’s what the critics are saying about “Mother!”:

Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman:

“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. There’s an abstract audacity to “mother!” The film’s horror plays off everything from the grabby hordes of celebrity culture to the fear of Nazis and terrorists to — yes — what it means to be a mother (complete with the world’s most ironic exclamation point). All of that makes the film seem ambitious. But it also makes it a movie that’s about everything and nothing.”

Indiewire’s Ben Croll:

“Aronofsky doesn’t lean toward claustrophobia. He externalizes his lead character’s horror into the foundations of the house. The house bleeds, it has oddly human-looking orifices, it has a beating heart. Aronofsky sends his characters into a nightmarish dreamscape that grows and evolves, particularly in the bonkers last third, which builds in pitch, scope, and sheer cinematic audacity, picking up overt religious and political resonance. The film freely dips from both Testaments. Lawrence’s character ties it to the Garden of Eden at one point, noting “I want to make a Paradise.” It becomes anything but. In one way or another, the film references all 10 of Pharaoh’s plagues (up to and including the last one. This film goes places), and trots in real-life brothers Domnhall and Brian Gleeson to play versions of Cain and Abel. At one point the film engages in a brazen act of cannibalism, forcing us to confront specific religious dogma.”

Vanity Fair’s Guy Lodge:

“Fashioning itself as a haunted-house movie is the most brilliant of (“Mother!’s” many bluffs and rug-pulls. The house itself, a perfectly whorled, shiver-infested creation by production designer Philip Messina, may heave and rumble like a stomachache, but it’s not the primary problem, even as its eerie false walls reveal themselves and floorboards turn inexplicably to kindling. For this is the nightmare of a haunted marriage, with the threatened male ego as its rampaging ghost: “I am I,” utters Bardem without a glimmer of irony, as Lawrence—who’s never been quite so nakedly disempowered on screen—transitions from uncomprehending panic to all-too-comprehending terror.”

The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern:

“There was a time, not terribly long ago, when the exclamation point stood as a symbol of zest, of positivity. It was Andre 3000 chanting the chorus to “Hey Ya!” or Meryl Streep frolicking through the cobblestone streets of “Mamma Mia!” That was then. Today it serves to accent the 140-character ravings of the U.S. president; a most violent cock’s crow. In “mother!,” the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, it comes laced with similar portent, and as the title credits roll, separates from its subject before both vanish into the ether. Are you scared yet? Well, how about an augury of death to top things off: the image of its star, Jennifer Lawrence, burning in flames. The message is clear: this is a film designed to f— with you. And f— with you it does.

The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang:

“In through the nose, out slowly through the mouth…If you are not familiar with the Lamaze breathing technique for women in labor, acquaint yourself with it before donning your hazmat suit and embarking on Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” which uncoils from a murderously tense, tricky and claustrophobic first hour into some of the most sustained escalating insanity (and scorchingly brilliant filmmaking) ever to burn down a cinema screen. An incendiary religious allegory, a haunted-house horror, a psychological head trip so extreme it should carry a health warning and an apologia for crimes of the creative ego past and not yet committed, it’s not just Aronofsky’s most bombastic, ludicrous and fabulous film, spiked with a kind of reckless, go-for-broke, leave-it-all-up-there-on-the-screen abandon, it is simply one of the most films ever. Seldom has a title ever earned its exclamation point in more emphatic fashion. In fact it deserves a few more, so here they are: !!!!!!!!!”

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