Mother!

For inSing

MOTHER!

Director : Darren Aronofsky
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2h 2m
Opens : 14 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror/Violence)

Jennifer Lawrence gets in touch with her maternal side – and an infernal side – in this psychological horror film from Darren Aronofsky. Lawrence’s character, the otherwise-unnamed Mother, is the wife of an author, the otherwise-unnamed Him (Bardem). Mother and Him have moved into a remote house, which Mother is attempting to fix up while Him struggles with writer’s block. Out of the blue, the couple is visited by an Orthopaedic surgeon, Man (Harris), and Man’s wife Woman (Pfeiffer). Man professes to be a fan of Him’s writing, and Him appreciates the attention, but Mother becomes wary of their new guests. This opens the gateway to more surprise visits, as Mother and Him grapple with issues within their marriage that are made manifest by the strangers who have come to their house.

Mother! is a film that is difficult to review because the filmmakers want us to know as little about it as possible. The marketing has had to be creative, because it’s such a challenging film to sell – a deejay friend of this reviewer’s received an actual pig’s heart in a box as a gift from the movie’s distributor. This is very much an arthouse film, and audiences going to see it because of Jennifer Lawrence will be thrown for a loop. Mother! is packed with potent imagery and thought-provoking ideas, but it feels like a film that was made with the intent to alienate the audience. Aronofsky does a fine job of establishing mounting dread, and there is a pervasive uneasiness to the affair, but because Mother! is so mannered and arch, there’s a barrier separating the viewer from the movie. This makes it difficult to get into, and no matter how intense and visceral the movie becomes, it engenders a certain detachedness.

As with many arthouse films, there is plenty to pick apart and muse over, and there are several themes that root the movie. Mother! reflects the power to create and to destroy inherent in every person. Mother! touches upon the culture of celebrity worship, and how cult-like it can become. Mother! is about the relationship between artists and their audience. Mother! is about the anxiety of, well, motherhood, the joy and hardships of bringing another human being into the world. Mother! is about how women can be side-lined, about how wives are sometimes forced to alter their lives to orbit around their husbands. One could write a paper, nay, several papers about Mother!, but perhaps a film should be more than something to dissect.

There’s a purity to Lawrence’s presence in this film, and she emanates an almost ethereal radiance. This is different from other projects she’s undertaken, clearly pushing the actress outside her comfort zone. While the character seems to be victimised for most of the film, she does bring a quiet strength to the role. Audiences know Bardem is capable of being creepy, and to his credit, he doesn’t come across as overtly evil – but we’re plenty suspicious of him all the same. Lawrence and Bardem are mismatched, but that seems to be the point, with the age gap between them being repeatedly pointed out by other characters.

The story is focused tightly on the dynamic between Mother and Him, but the supporting players do make an impact. Pfeiffer is especially fun to watch as someone who’s passive-aggressive and calculative, but outwardly pleasant. Of all the performers, Pfeiffer appears to be having the most fun. There is a certain Saturday Night Live who shows up later in the film – if you don’t who this is yet, it’s a fun surprise, but also comes off as deliberately gimmicky.

Mother! has attracted its share of controversy – you might have seen headlines online along the lines of “Mother! could be the most hated film of 2017” or “Has Darren Aronofsky gone too far?” After a near-excruciating slow burn, Mother! does build to a chaotic, gory frenzy. There are moments of raw, searing power here, and it is immensely thought-provoking. However, because of how much attention the film draws to its own construction, and how desperately it seems to want to be seen as a piece of art, Mother! is more a bubbled-over cauldron of allegory and metaphor than an absorbing story.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Killers (キラーズ)

KILLERS (キラーズ Kirazu)

Director : The Mo Brothers
Cast : Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Ersya Aurelia
Genre : Thriller
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : R21 (Strong Violence and Gore)
Run time: 138 mins

First, put the Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl-starring travesty far from your mind, because this Killersis worlds away from that one. In this psychological thriller, the paths of a Japanese serial killer and an Indonesian investigative journalist violently collide. In Tokyo, Nomura Shuhei (Kitamura) is a slick, charming psychopath who tortures and murders young women, uploading the resulting snuff films onto the internet. In Jakarta, Baru Aditya (Antara) is a reporter who is following the trial of corrupt magnate Dharma (Sahetapy), frustrated that justice isn’t served. After coming across one of Nomura’s videos and following a chance encounter with a pair of muggers, Baru begins down the dark path of committing murders and recording them. However, the targets are men like Dharma and his ilk and not the innocent women Nomura favours. Nomura contacts Baru over the internet, egging him on and viewing him as a mentee. It is not long before Baru realises the depths of Nomura’s depravity, but by then it seems it’s too late for him to claw his way out.

            This Japanese-Indonesian co-production is advertised as coming from the producers of The Raid, with Gareth Evans’ Merantau Films being one of the production companies involved. Helming Killers is the directorial duo The Mo Brothers. Comprising Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, they aren’t actual blood-related brothers but it seems blood does figure heavily in this partnership, judging by the amounts of gore in this film. Tjahjanto contributed segments to the horror anthology films V/H/Sand The ABCs of Death and this one is indeed intense and disturbing. Apparently, the original concept for the film was that of a serial killer from Japan and another from Indonesia “competing” for supremacy. The end result is something far more sophisticated, a riveting meditation on that age-old question “what is it that makes a man become a killer?”

            Killers possesses a unique structure, with the story’s focus alternating between the two main characters who, for the bulk of the film, only briefly interact via webcam and live in two different countries. The Indonesian section of the film is entirely in Bahasa Indonesia while the Japanese section is in Japanese, with Nomura and Bayu communicating in English during their web chats. The environments and cultures of Tokyo and Jakarta are cleverly contrasted and despite switching between two very different locales, Killers never feels disjointed. It is almost always the case that films questioning the consumption of violence, by dint of depicting violence itself, are a part of the “problem” and can’t have their cake and eat it too. Yes, Killers is a lurid, graphic film and this reviewer did find much of it difficult to stomach, but this reviewer never felt that it was outright “torture porn” or that it settled for any easy answers when dealing with the moral ethical quandaries such as “is murder ever actually justifiable?”

            Both leads deliver stirring performances. Kitamura gets the role that might be considered more fun, with shades of American Psycho or Dexter evident in his portrayal of a psychopath who’s always dressed to kill in the sharpest suits and who has a “murder annexe” to his bachelor pad. The relationship Nomura forms with the florist Hisae (Takanashi) lends the character several layers and there is of course the niggling sense of dread that he can kill this woman any time he wants. The role could’ve been played in a cartoonishly broad manner and while Kitamura does visibly relish the chance to play this unhinged character, he resists indulging in full-on scenery chewing. Oka Antara is very sympathetic as the antihero whose journey from regular family man to something far more sinister is frightening and heart-rending all at once. His frustration and desire to take the law into his own hands feels warranted but we fear for him as we see his sanity slip through his fingers. When these two finally meet, it’s a dynamite nail-biter of an ending.

            A polished, well-made film that truly gets under one’s skin, the production values are solid, Gunnar Nimpuno’s cinematography and the score by Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi ramping up that “pit of your stomach” sense of dread. This is the kind of film where a smart, disturbing concept could’ve been let down by a clumsy execution but The Mo Brothers demonstrate a firm hold on the material all the way through. At 137 minutes, it’s something of a slow burn but the parallel storylines were did have my attention in a vice-like grip. This efficient thriller will be hanging around in the back of your mind for a good while after you’ve seen it.


Summary: An intelligent, edgy and frightening psychological thriller, Killers is a sophisticated, unique entry in the serial killer movie subgenre.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd

Mindscape

For F*** Magazine

MINDSCAPE

Director : Jorge Dorado
Cast : Mark Strong, Taissa Farmiga, Brian Cox, Indira Varma, Noah Taylor, Clare Calbraith
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens: : 8 May 2014

“Journey into the body” movies like Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace can be fun, but it’s often “journey into the mind” films that are truly intriguing and trippy. In this psychological thriller, Mark Strong plays John Washington, a “memory detective” working for the agency Mindscape. He has the ability to take subjects back into their memories and has used this skill to solve several crimes. Reeling from the loss of his wife, he takes a job from Mindscape boss Sebastian (Cox) to help 16-year-old Anna Greene (Farmiga) break her hunger strike. What appears to be a simple job soon becomes unpredictable and dangerous, as John tries to figure out if the girl is a helpless victim or a sociopathic mastermind herself, all while memories of his late wife intrude into his mind.

Mindscape is the feature film debut of director Jorge Dorado and is produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, director of Orphan, Unknown and Non-Stop. Collet-Serra co-founded studio Ombra Films as a platform for promising Spanish directors to make English-language movies, akin to what Luc Besson did for France with his studio EuropaCorp. Also known as Anna, Mindscape aims for a Hitchcockian flavour but comes off feeling more like a 90s erotic/psychological thriller, a tamer Basic Instinct meets The Sixth Sense. If we’re talking more recent films, there’s a tinge of Red Lights and Trance here too. Dorado creates a good deal of atmosphere, but he relies on tried and tested suspense movie tricks such as disorienting editing, recurring visual motifs (clocks, staircases, roses), slow focus pulling, and a score featuring what sounds like the string section of an orchestra having a collective seizure.

Sibling team Guy and Martha Holmes’ screenplay is filled with awkward, clumsy chunks of exposition and some unnatural dialogue, but the set-up does pull one in and the mystery is initially engrossing. As can be expected of this genre, there are several twists and turns and while there isn’t an outright preposterous cop-out, it’s still far from truly satisfying. Still, there is a valiant attempt made at characterisation and like with a good page-turner, this reviewer wanted to keep watching to find out how it all plays out. Films featuring a Lolita figure can end up feeling trashy and exploitative, and Mindscape doesn’t feel too cheap and schlocky in that way.

Mark Strong is one of those actors who gets typecast as villains in Hollywood films (hence his inclusion in Jaguar’s “Good to be Bad” advertising campaign) but his intensity and presence give him more range than a string of baddie parts suggests. As the “memory detective” plunged into the skeletons-in-closets-filled world of a wealthy and powerful family, Strong’s mix of wariness and vulnerability is quite convincing. The interplay between him and Taissa Farmiga is quite fun to watch. Farmiga bites into her meaty role in an entertaining fashion, her portrayal of the disturbed Anna Greene reminiscent of many a Saoirse Ronan performance. Anna is part Cole Sear, part Catherine Tramell (or is she?) and Farmiga gamely unravels the Gordian knot that is the character before the audience and is mesmerising at it. Brian Cox doesn’t really do much in his supporting role.

This neo-noir mystery film falls back on many conventions of the genre, substituting “psychologist playing head games with a mysterious female client” with “memory detective playing head games with a mysterious female client”. Strong and Farmiga work well with each other but ultimately, Mindscape is more convoluted than complex and while its game of “who’s manipulating who?” is intriguing in some places, it’s tiresome in others. It’s a twisty whodunit that busies itself with old stylistic tricks and lacks a sensational pay-off.

Summary: Taissa Farmiga is captivating and Mark Strong plays against her well, but Mindscape feels too much like any number of psychological thrillers even with its sci-fi-tinged setup.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong