The 400-Word Review: Mother!
By Sean Collier
September 19, 2017

She has no idea what happened, either.

Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, if it could somehow be viewed in a context-free vacuum, is undeniably remarkable filmmaking. Lifeblood is breathed — among other verbs — into the horror genre here, as the limitations of the style are shattered by a version of terror rarely, if ever, seen in cinema. It is as torturous for the audience as it is for its protagonist, building to a climax which can be endlessly dissected and analyzed but is more powerful, in the sheer meaning of that word, than almost anything I can recall.

I’m not sure that anyone should watch it.

Our characters — credited only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) — live in a gorgeous, sprawling home in the middle of nowhere. There is no cellphone reception; as far as we see, there aren’t even any roads. He is a struggling poet, lauded and accomplished but beset by writer's’ block; she is a doting and meek homemaker, dedicated to facilitating his process and building their unfettered haven.

When a mysterious and vaguely sinister couple, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, arrives at the home, he welcomes them in for an open-ended stay; she is confused and put off by these darkly aggressive interlopers, but seems unable to override his confidence and insistence.

I could dive in further, but for the few who possess the stomach and curiosity to investigate this film, I won’t. On an emotional level, what follows is a masterful exercise in creeping, overwhelming tension; at a certain point, the sheer presence of human beings is enough to create a suspense that will drive viewers to panic.

Then things get really weird. Weird, bizarre, disturbing — unforgettably troubling.

The callous and desensitized viewer will be able to interpret what happens in Mother! in many ways; it could be a religious allegory, a commentary on the relationship between artist and muse (or man and woman), a reflection of cinema’s treatment of women. It could be all of these things, or none of them.

What transpires, though, is so base and guttural — shocking is too tame a word, really — that I cannot in good conscience recommend that many experience it. There is plenty here for the film aficionado, to be sure, but the cost paid by the viewer is astronomically high. It’s good, yes; for most audiences, that’s probably not enough to make it worth watching.

I ordinarily give films a rating out of 10 in this space; in the case of Mother!, I don’t believe such an evaluation is possible.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at