Mother! is the best film of 2017 so far, and here's why we can't recommend it
Jennifer Lawrence wakes up, in bed, alone...
That is how Mother! begins, and over the next two hours, each and every viewer will be drawn into their own personal hell, but one that will split the audience right down the middle.
Half of them will be absolutely absorbed by the punishing psychological horror that plays out before them, and the other half will completely reject it, claiming it to be nothing but shock value, of no value.
Unlike most cinematic experiences, where the lovers and haters can have an easy conversational debate, perhaps even bringing a few new recruits over to each other's side, that is very much not the case with Mother!, and here's why.
At the early screening of the film in Dublin, there were walk outs. And not just the regular number of people who maybe weren't feeling it, this prompted A LOT of people to get up when they'd reached their breaking point.
A number of viewers were visibly sobbing when the lights came up over the end credits, the visceral nature of the film overwhelmed them completely.
This writer heard reports that first aid trained staff in the cinema were asked to go to the bathroom where a man was suffering from a panic attack, brought on by the film.
During the film, a viewing neighbour touched me gently on the shoulder to let me know they wanted to get up to leave and pass by me, but I had been so tightly wound by the movie that I practically jumped straight out of my seat.
Mother! is a horror movie quite unlike any other, the closest description being that writer/director Darren Aranofsky is now the artist that has come closest to fully rendering the mood and head-space of being in somebody else's living, breathing nightmare.
Clip via Paramount Pictures
The less you know about the plot the better (feel free to stop reading now), but even being armed with knowledge won't really protect you any from the onslaught. J-Law's character is never given a name, referred to as simply Mother in the end credits, and her husband, played by Javier Bardem, is similarly only referred to as Him as the film comes to a close.
They live in a relative idyllic peace in their home in the middle of nowhere, when a stranger (Ed Harris) visits them in the middle of the night. The following morning, the stranger's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), also knocks on their door. Bardem is strangely over-friendly with them, allowing them to stay, much to Lawrence's dismay. And from there, things begin to unravel...
Anyone who has ever seen any of Aranofsky's previous movies - in particular Black Swan and Requiem For A Dream - will know that he is almost unparalleled in creating a particular type of atmosphere, and with Mother! he has come up with a mood piece that is like a delirious horror movie, one which is getting comparisons to Rosemary's Baby and The House Of The Devil, but is beyond easy reference points, as he has created something entirely unique, and something that people will either absolutely love, or profoundly hate.
There was one scene in particular that, in this writer's near decade of watching movies professionally, had a more powerful impact on viewers than just about anything else ever seen in a cinema. People screamed and yelled, and seconds later, were still yelling, still trying to catch their breaths.
They, and we, had been lured into the trap of a Jennifer Lawrence-starring horror movie, which sounds pretty safe, like we'd be potentially getting something generic, just like the last time J-Law did a horror, and we got the instantly forgettable House At The End Of The Street.
But no, there is no safety here. Jennifer Lawrence deserves an Oscar for her turn in this, and Mother! deserves to be seen, but only by those who feel they're appropriately ready for it.
Consider this your warning shot: Mother! is brilliant, most likely the best movie of 2017, and you'll be talking about it for hours and days and weeks after it (We'll be coming back to it this weekend with a full breakdown of it). But don't be surprised if you absolutely hate it, either.
Mother! is in cinemas from Friday 15 September.