intruders

All posts tagged intruders

Mother! and the Art of Sacrifice

Published September 28, 2017 by rmpixie

mother! (2017, 2 hrs, 1 min.)

 

Yet another festival film has divided the masses in the way of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Mother!  Making its rounds in Europe and playing TIFF 2017 in Toronto; and much like previous TIFF premiere The Witch from over a year ago, critics and viewers either love or hate this allegorical masterpiece that confounds the horror genre and elevates the artistic experience.

A married couple live in a secluded house in the countryside. This rambling manor is a restoration project for the young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and a place for solitude and concentration for her writer husband (Javier Bardem). While she is his muse, he is still looking for inspiration and having difficulty putting pen to paper, but when a stream of strangers come to their door looking for a place to stay, things start to change. These guests are unwanted by the writer’s wife, disturbing her solitude and her vision for the home; yet they fuel and invigorate her husband, creating a fervour that will soon divide them in their lifelong pursuits.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem).
Photo credit: IMDb

When my boyfriend and I showed our tickets to one of the theatre staff, she immediately let us know that we could get a refund within the first half hour of the film. The staff member felt she had to warn us about the disturbing nature of the film, as many movie-goers thought it was a family drama because of the title. With that red flag waved before we even sat down in the theatre, I wasn’t sure what we were about to witness, but I was scared I might find something to take issue with. This apprehension also came from some earlier discussion during TIFF about the age difference between Jennifer Lawrence’s character only know as Mother, and her husband Him, played by Javier Bardem. The May/December coupling was something to think about as it mirrored the real-life relationship of Aronofsky and Lawrence, but I couldn’t condemn the film simply because of that one detail without having seen it. I tend to avoid any reviews until I’ve seen the film and written my own thoughts about it, and I made an extra effort to avoid as many articles as I could with Mother! I did see a few snippets of review headlines screaming the film’s shortcomings or brilliance in a few choice words, making me even more curious. My final verdict, although I tried in vain to find something to dislike about Mother!, is one of complete adoration for such a brilliant film.

There is so much to say about Mother! and so many layers to explore that I imagine theology, psychology, film and sociology PhD students will have at it for decades. Aronofsky himself has said in several interviews that this film is about Mother Earth and her destruction but you can see other themes based on the artist and religion.  Whether you believe the film to be about the perishing earth, art, or the Bible, there is a common thread that shows the struggle of creating and the sacrifice that the creator and those around them must endure.

*Some may find the next part of this review/analysis spoiler-filled, so reader be warned.*

As a creative person and someone who values solitude, I felt Mother’s horror as intruders destroyed her sanctuary.  Her experiences are very close to a recurring nightmare I used to have about constant, unwanted visitors, and I felt her husband’s frustration with not being able to create, desperately looking for an outlet or inspiration. When the intruders start to fuel his creativity, allowing the floodgates to open and his masterpiece to unfold, it’s a wave that many an artist or writer wants to capture and ride forever, constantly feeding the ego with praise and celebrity.

Mother and her husband are fairly archetypical in nature. The rosy-cheeked, blonde, blue-eyed representation of Mother Earth/Mary/the female side of creativity is young, vibrant and innocent, just the type of personification that is needed to feed the creativity of her older, more worldly husband. Aronofsky has said that Rosemary’s Baby was among the influences for the film, and like Rosemary Woodhouse, Mother is used for her spouse’s gain without her being in on the larger scheme of things, but here there is a cyclical feel to her life and death. She will not be forced to choose to look after her child like Rosemary, in fact, Mother is in constant opposition to what is happening around her even though she is a major part of the cycle. She is there to tend to the home while her husband creates, but her efforts will be overshadowed and thwarted by intruders. Her role is so utterly mired in the feminine and her partner so male, that the yin and yang of their relationship and power dynamics, while stereotypical, are poignant. Her desire to have children and bear fruit like Mother Earth is stunted by her husband’s own overbearing God-like desire to create and be adored, and when she does have a child, it is taken from her for his own egotistical reasons, to placate his worshipers who have supported Him in his work and who treat his writings like scriptures, confirming his role as an all-seeing, all-knowing deity.

Mother’s experience is very relatable as she struggles with her intuition. Her need to restore the house, listening to and nurturing its spirit is acknowledged but not heeded and she is placated by thin excuses or shunned for not going along with the crowd. At times her physical voice is drowned out by the chaos as her hard work is destroyed. The insecurity that comes with the terror of being completely alone in your pursuits needs a strong person to stand up for what they believe in. She does this over and over again, as she sacrifices herself not as a victim but as a martyr and saviour, only to be resurrected in this weird and crazy cycle of life.

Technically speaking, I really enjoyed the camerawork that was reminiscent of the long takes in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and the claustrophobic close-ups and tracking shots of Mother like in Rosemary’s Baby. It gives us Mother’s perspective and we witness the action along with her. We were also in the dark with her, getting no clues as the audience, save for some biblical references like Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel (played by Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian and Domhnall Gleeson respectively); as well as the birth and devouring of Mother’s son seemingly symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ as one interpretation.

I must mention a wonderful surprise (at least for me!). Stephen McHattie appears as the zealot; a rabid follower of the writer’s work, stirring up the masses to worship the word of the writer. Those who know me, know I love Mr. McHattie, so to see him in such a spectacular pageant of a film made me love and respect him even more. And speaking of pageants, I had the sense that Mother! could somehow work as a stage play with the exaggerated chaotic action, and I would love to see that in the future.

I really can’t tell you how to react to Mother! only what I’ve seen and experienced as I immersed myself in this film. Yes, you can see obvious influences of the Bible, Rosemary’s Baby, Birdman (in my opinion for the cinematic style), and all the other films mentioned by Aronofsky himself, but these influences melded to create something that is unique, new and quite simply brilliant. Whether you see it as a creationist story, an 11th hour commentary on the state of the earth and environment as the director intended, a modern-day scripture about the artist ego, sacrifice and their art, there are allegories and symbolism for days in this film. It’s not to be missed.

 

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Berkshire County BITS 2014

Published December 3, 2014 by rmpixie

Berkshire County

Berkshire County (2014, 1 hr 23 mins)

I’m back for another helping of Canuck horror at the 3rd annual Blood In The Snow Film Festival, where a select number of Canadian-made horror is showcased over 3 days with many of the directors and actors in attendance.  It’s a smaller, more intimate festival, held at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, where fans and film cast and crew can literally rub shoulders at the theatre and after-parties all weekend.

The opening night film was Berkshire County.  In the tradition of classic slasher and intruder films, this flick melds the two for a large helping of suspenseful, action-packed horror.

The victim of a cruel video prank that quickly spreads through her high school, Kylie (Alysa King) is having a rough time of it.  She unable to deal with the shame and ridicule of the aftermath, and feels outcast and hopeless.  Taking on a babysitting gig in a remote country home on Halloween night, she tries to escape the memory of the mean stunt, but when 3 pig-masked intruders darken their doorstep, Kylie is in for a night of terror that will test her will to survive.

Berkshire County‘s director Audrey Cummings’ first feature-length film was an overall success.  The components for a typical horror film-teens, sex, jump scares and knife-wielding bad guys-were elevated to create tension, great plot twists and action that culminated with car-crash velocity, leaving plenty of room for a sequel with an over-the-top ending.

Alysa King’s terror-stricken performance was a great rollercoaster ride that took you from despair to determination, and Madison Ferguson as Phoebe along with Christophe Galland who played her brother Sam, did a stellar job as the scared charges under Kylie’s care.  At the Q & A after the film, King said it was a great honour to play such a strong female role, and beating out 200 other girls for the part, as well as winning a “Bloodie”award for best actress at this festival, she really gave it her all.  Also look out for Samora Smallwood, who played Roberta.  Without giving away any spoilers, she will knock your socks off, and I hope to see both her and King in more films soon!  And the bad guys?  The stuff of legend.  The pig-faced slashers were methodical, creepy and pretty bad ass!  From their pork truck of terror to their underaged minion, they will surely haunt your nightmares for years to come.  Definitely goes into my book of iconic villains.

We also learned some inside info about the shoot and what inspired the film at the Q & A.  Writer Chris Gamble pulled from true life events when he was a babysitter.  Breaking his glasses that basically left him blind one night on the job, he was terrified by some strange knocking on the door, which was later found out to be a prank.  Cummings and Gamble funded the film with their own money, but they had fantastic news of Canadian distribution with A71 Entertainment, International with Ravens Banner, and a soon to be announced U.S. distributor.  The cast and crew all felt the set of the isolated house was super creepy, and I have to agree.  It was particularly hideous, and appeared to have endless rooms similar to the Winchester Mystery House in California.  Cummings had a lot of issues with the use of the location, including foreclosure and some miscommunication with the owner which lead to a couple of script rewrites for the 22 day shoot, but it obviously worked out to bring us a great horror film.

I had to ask about the masks.  When you see them, I think you will agree that they are incredibly horrific.  They were created at The Butcher Shop, a Hamilton, Ontario based makeup effects studio.  All the cast agreed that the shop itself was something out of a horror movie due to its creepy basement location, so it set the scene for what they were about to be a part of!  Carlos Henriques, owner of the studio and special effects artist on the shoot, created the masks to Cummings’ specifications, and even went so far as to use a real severed pig’s head as inspiration for one of the masks.

Berkshire County has won the grand jury prize for Best Feature at Shriekfest in L.A., and has since won awards all over at many festivals.  Do yourself a favour and see why because it really is the whole horror package and one of my top picks for the BITS Fest!

 

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