Review – Insidious: The Last Key


Insidious: The Last Key is hitting at a poor time for me as I’m trying to catch all of the prestige films that are swamping theaters and also balancing work and family.  It’s tough and this film, though I liked the earlier installments well enough, hasn’t exactly been the top priority on my list.  Nonetheless, I made the time to catch it, this evening, and this is officially my first review of a 2018 film.  So, yay, I guess?

I only somewhat remembered the events of the previous films heading into this one.  As successful as the films in this franchise have been, they haven’t left much of an impression upon me.  This series certainly has never been The Conjuring, that’s for sure.  Still, it’s tough to argue with success and the Insidious franchise has unquestionably been successful, earning a total worldwide cume of just under $372 million on a combined three-film budget of approximately $16.5 million.  That’s impressive, no matter how you slice it, and this fourth installment has already easily made a profit and the film isn’t even a week old, yet.


The newest chapter in the Insidious franchise continues to follow the adventures (which may be too light of a term) of Elise Rainier, portrayed by Lin Shaye. The Last Key delves into Elise’s past, partially serving a prequel, yet mostly keeping its feet planted in the present and adding to the overall mythology. The film takes some narrative risks and is surprisingly unpredictable but it never quite reaches true greatness.

I would definitely be doing director Adam Robitel and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also reprises his role as Specs alongside his on-screen business partner and friend Tucker, once again portrayed by Angus Sampson) a disservice if I neglected to commend their efforts to add a few extra layers of subtext and depth to their film. While The Last Key is a reasonably effective horror film, it also functions as a soft social commentary on the struggle of women to find their collective societal voice.


Not only is young Elise (played by the amazing Ava Kolker. Keep an eye on her in the future, folks.) ignored and abused when she first manifests and communicates her new abilities to see otherworldly entities, but some of those very same entities literally and physically silence female characters using their supernatural abilities. The point is not belabored but anyone watching with their brain fully engaged will pick up on it. Not that Insidious: The Last Key will have any sort of profound impact upon the continued efforts of women to attain true equality, but the message is still appreciated.

Getting some additional insight into Elise is also a nice touch. She was already one of the more likable and endearing horror movie protagonists in recent memory and seeing some of her relevant history only compounds that. In actuality, the film is as much a dramatic character study as it is a horror film. Perhaps that will turn some viewers off, to a degree, but the expected horror elements are still present, though maybe to a (slightly) lesser degree than the previous installments. In any event, no one who is paying attention can legitimately accuse the film of being one-dimensional.

Beautiful Hana Hayes HD Image In Insidious The Last Key

That doesn’t mean it’s flawless, however.  For instance, there’s a silly metaphorical connection between the town in which Elise grows up and the primary demon in the film.  There’s no underlying meaning to the connection; it’s just there.  Though there are some narrative surprises, the scares are more of the same. Some of the jump scares work, but others are horrendously telegraphed. The atmosphere is consistently and appropriately unsettling, though I found the creature designs to be rather uninspired. Still, things were proceeding rather nicely until the climactic final confrontation, when – in a single timespan of approximately sixty seconds or less – one established rule after another is just shredded to bits and tossed out with the trash. Believable character motivations? Gone. Much of the supporting groundwork that had been so painstakingly laid was simply sacrificed for the sake of an exciting battle that in reality was only moderately thrilling. It wasn’t worth it.

Still, as with most movies, one must take the good with the bad. There’s some of both in Insidious: The Last Key, but it’s ultimately an entertaining entry that falls in line with its predecessors as a solid and above-average, but unspectacular B-minus horror movie. Fans will like it. Non-fans won’t be converted. No matter which you are, there’s almost certainly another installment coming, though. And I’ll be there for it, even if I don’t remember much of this one.

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Review – Insidious: The Last Key

Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer


I have had one heck of a time getting to a theater to catch The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  I featured it in my Ten Fourth-Quarter 2017 Films to be Excited About! column, but it took a while before it finally arrived within driving distance of my house.  And then I was out of town or otherwise predisposed during the weekends and couldn’t get to the nearest theater (an hour away) to catch it.  But I finally managed to do it, taking advantage of a rare Thursday off.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another film from A24 Studios, one of the two most consistent and reliable movie studios in the business today (along with Marvel Studios.  Pixar has fallen to a clear third, even taking the brilliant Coco into account.). This is the second film for A24 that has been written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, after 2016’s The Lobster. After seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it is becoming clear that Lanthimos has a distinct and recognizable style all his own. What I’m not yet sure about is whether or not it’s deliberate.

Like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a quirky science-fiction drama starting Colin Farrell. This is one of those films that’s rather difficult to discuss without spoilers, so I’ll sum it up by saying that Farrell plays cardiologist Steven Murphy, who makes a critical mistake for which he is forced to either atone or face dire consequences. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes longer than it should to get to the hook, but it’s a gripping, fascinating hook, once it arrives. Hang in there.

Consequences and atonement are unquestionably the themes of the film. In addition to working side by side with the always-great Nicole Kidman, Farrell plays opposite Barry Keoghan, who plays Martin, Murphy’s young protege. Keoghan gives a chilling performance as Martin morphs and shifts throughout the course of the narrative and more is revealed about his history and motivations. Farrell does well as he plays off of Keoghan and, in turn, Kidman performs admirably, as well, as her character of Anna reacts to her husband’s choice of actions. But, ultimately, everyone except for Keoghan is hampered by Lanthimos’s stubborn insistence upon leaving his own style in place, rather than allowing the film to grow naturally.

I say that because there are more similarities between this film and The Lobster than what I mentioned above. Like that film, the dialogue is stilted and often downright bizarre, with characters saying unimaginable things to each other given the natures of their relationships and/or the circumstances under which a given conversation is occurring. This is not the mistake of an inexperienced writer, either. It’s an artistic choice seemingly designed to unsettle the audience from the beginning of the film and set the tone (which the long, steady opening shot also accomplishes. I’ll allow you to discover that on your own.). To compound matters, when any particular character utters something too forward or unusual or even a total non-sequitur, the opposing character just rolls with it, as if it’s a typical conversation on the porch swing at Grandma’s house.

It doesn’t end there. Throughout the majority of the film, Lanthimos directs his cast to perform with as little emotion as possible. It’s not just in the dialogue that characters are unfazed by the disquieting behavior of the others, but in the performances, as well. In the back half of the movie, Farrell and Kidman get to emote to a degree, but it’s still far too restrained considering what is playing out on-screen. Keoghan is fortunate in the sense that this approach is logical for Martin, but the others in the cast aren’t so lucky.

So, if all of this was also the case in The Lobster, why didn’t it bother me it that film? Simple: it made sense for The Lobster. The Lobster was about a bunch of people who spent their lives having difficulty forming connections with other people. If they’re awkward, unsociable, or just don’t understand how to properly interact with others, those traits gel with their current spot in life. In Sacred Deer, we’re looking at a fully-formed, longstanding family unit with two very successful (on all fronts) adults at the helm. Those same traits just don’t work for these people.

If this is Lanthimos’s attempt to craft a cinematic image for himself, it will end up being a misguided one. His ideas for film premises are already distinctive enough. Sabotaging his own films by making all of his characters feel robotic and inhuman will do no favors for his own future. I was interested in this story from a broader perspective of caring about people in general but I felt no personal connection to it, at all.

I’m reminded of Wes Anderson. I have a hard time with his films because of the way he handles his characters and dialogue, presenting them in a distinctly non-realistic way. I tend to tune out quickly because I don’t believe a thing I see or hear. I know a lot of people love him (he’s my best friend’s favorite), but I just can’t connect. Lanthimos will be the same way if he’s not careful, with the difference being that, while his weird stories are good for me, unlike Anderson’s, they’re probably too over the top for many general audiences. And that will cause a problem if he can’t connect with them through narrative or character and dialogue. If he wants a long, successful career, he should focus on the work and not his own reputation.

I don’t love or hate The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I love the concept and the story. I’m mixed (at best) on the execution. This isn’t a film that will appeal to the typical moviegoer, but those who like strange and quirky storytelling may still want to give it a look, depending on how much my own personal issues with the film would bother them. Still, A24 has put out another film that’s an easy conversation piece and certainly unforgettable. As long as they keep doing that, I’ll keep showing up.

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Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


I’ve mentioned it before, but I love myself an old-fashioned locked-room mystery.  I love them enough that I’m staying up late to see Murder on the Orient Express and then write this post, even though I have to get up early in the morning in order to catch a flight to Rhode Island.  I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s original novel, nor have I seen any other adaptation of this particular story.  So, I went in fresh, having no idea who the killer was, or even if the killer was the same as in the previous versions (though, having now seen it, I suspect that the film uses Christie’s original ending.  I have a friend who is a big fan of Christie’s work – you know who you are and thanks for clicking – and I’m sure he’ll tell me after he sees the film).  This is the kind of filmgoing experience I really look forward to.

I doubt anyone out there needs much of an explanation as to what Murder on the Orient Express is about, but I’ll give a quick synopsis of the premise, anyway.  Spectacularly mustachioed director Kenneth Branagh (ThorCinderella) also stars as the world’s greatest detective (sorry, Batman.  No computers needed, here.), Hercule Poirot.  While traveling aboard the extravagant passenger train, the Orient Express, with a baker’s dozen of strangers, one of them is . . . well . . . murdered, of course.  It is then up to Poirot to identify and apprehend the killer and set the minds of the other innocent passengers at ease.


For those who haven’t been exposed to the marketing for this film, the cast is to die for.  Besides Branagh, himself, the passengers consist of characters played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odum, Jr., and Judi Dench.  (I suppose I could have simply directed you to the poster above for that list, but this made it easier, didn’t it?)  That’s an impressive cast by anyone’s standards.  With a cast that large, naturally the screen time must be divided up amongst them.  Yet, none of them are wasted and each shines when given the opportunity.

Branagh brought all of these people together for a reason: to make each character stand out and be memorable amongst a sea of names and potential motivations.  If the audience can’t keep them straight, then the movie dies.  And if the audience can’t believe in each character’s motives, the movie also dies.  Neither of those issues manifest at any point throughout Murder on the Orient Express.  A nice job is done by all.


The narrative is at once simple to follow and complex in its structure.  There are many possibilities for the explanation behind the murder, yet the story has to be composed in such a way that all but one of them almost work.  That is much easier said than done.  Equally difficult is communicating all of that nimble storytelling in a way that the audience doesn’t get bogged down in the details.  Branagh pulls this off and makes it look easy.  If there’s a weakness to the film, the dialogue can be a little dull in parts, sapping some of the energy and momentum from the film.  However, the performances and beautiful visuals help carry the film through its more difficult moments, which are thankfully relatively few in number.  If you find yourself getting a little restless in the middle, hang in there.  The payoff is worth it, in my opinion.

And the payoff is what makes writing this review especially tricky.  I loved the ending.  I was having trouble reconciling certain components of the story but the ending explained it all.  Even better, the climax provided far more emotional weight and context than I expected.  I expected narrative complexity.  I did not expect emotional complexity.  There are some specific cast members that truly stand out with regards to the finale, but I’m unable to single them out for fear of tipping the film’s hand and ruining it for you, my audience.  I won’t do that.  But, for me, this sort of movie almost lives and dies by its resolution.  This one lives and will have the attentive viewer thinking and feeling things they did not expect to be thinking or feeling.


Murder on the Orient Express provided me with everything I was looking for from a classic murder mystery.  Throughout the majority of the film, it met my expectations.  Toward the end, it somewhat exceeded them.  While the film doesn’t quite have the emotional resonance of other films from this year such as Wonder Woman or Wind River it packs a surprisingly powerful punch, turning itself into more of a complete package than it would have been by simply remaining a more straightforward crime story.  The cast steps up and elevates the film and the visuals are always beautiful and often stunning.  I look forward to getting a chance to watch this one again and catch some of the little details that I may have missed upon this initial viewing.  If Murder on the Orient Express seems like your cup of tea, it probably will be.

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Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Review – Jigsaw


Once upon a time, the Saw franchise was cinematically synonymous with Halloween weekend.  For seven consecutive years, from 2004 through 2010, a new Saw film thrilled and terrorized horror lovers around the world with its combination of intricate and inventive traps, psychologically complex characters, and massive mythology.  Within my own circles, I frequently referred to the property as the Star Wars of horror, not because of a perceived similar pop culture footprint (while popular, Saw does not and will never approximate the success of Star Wars in that arena) but because of the scope of its storytelling.  Most would venture out to see the latest Saw film for the traps and the gore.  I was interested in the next chapter in the story.  There were always surprising reveals and exciting twists that set the franchise apart from others in the genre.

Seven years after the seventh entry in the Saw series, the world gets an eighth chapter, entitled Jigsaw.  Since there have been so many years since the most recent installment, there was a significant risk that even the truest fans of the franchise hadn’t had the chance to rewatch the seven original films in preparation for this revival and had forgotten many of the details.  After all, there have certainly been a lot of details: a plethora of death traps, a horde of plot twists, and a mass of characters – all woven together through an intricate tapestry of relationships and interactions, often told in nonchronological order.  So, forgetting some of the minutia of the story so far would be easily forgivable.


But, despite being reductively labeled as “torture porn” by the less-insightful members of the viewing audience and critical society, Saw has never lacked smarts or awareness.  All that is required as one walks into Jigsaw is the memory of who Jigsaw was, his mission statement, and his most recent status.  The film functions well as a soft relaunch (not reboot.  That’s not the same thing and that’s not what this film is.).  Both loyal fans and the unfamiliar can follow this story with ease without seeing or remembering the other films – as long as they pay close attention and keep up with the fast-paced story.

In spite of Jigsaw’s accessibility, the film never forgets or ignores what has come before.  Part of the fun of this series is its willingness to include constant callbacks to the previous films, often even weaving them into the narrative.  I was afraid that this film would forgo that aspect of the property, but there was no reason to be concerned.  Sibling directors Michael and Peter Spierig managed to craft a film that takes the story to new places while also acknowledging its past.  It’s what we’ve come to expect from Saw and the Spierigs knew better than to give the audience anything else.


The cast is mostly comprised of television and low-budget film actors, but good ones.  Among the more notable names are Callum Keith Rennie (Californication), Laura Vandervoort (Smallville), and Matt Passmore (The Glades).  Truly, everybody pulls their weight and the cast presents no issues with the film.

As is often the case with these films, there are plenty of logistical hiccups within the framework of the story – events that simply couldn’t happen as presented under the established rules of this universe.  What each viewer has to decide is how much they will allow themselves to be bothered by these sorts of issues.  I noticed them.  Some of them bothered me more than others.  But none of them bothered me so much that I ceased to enjoy the crazy reveals, the wickedly-designed Rube Goldberg-esque murder machines, and the next stage of this grand story about a Punisher-type character (with loads more patience) and the effect he has on the world he inhabits.


Naturally, Jigsaw is not a perfect movie.  Critics aren’t going to like it.  Well, at least they’re going to say they don’t like it.  But I personally found it to be one of the more enjoyable entries in the series, especially as it rockets towards its elaborate conclusion.  To put it as simply and as straightforward as I can, Jigsaw gave me what I wanted.  The clever traps, the moral ambiguity, the battles of wits, the mystery, the epic story, and the fact that things are never what they seem are why I love seeing these films and why I’ll keep going back to them as long as someone keeps making them.  If you think you’re too good to see these movies, you’re wrong, but you still won’t enjoy them.  But for fans of the franchise, Jigsaw provides reliable thrills, winces, and plenty of guilt at having more fun than one should while watching people die in the most brutal fashions imaginable.

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Review – Jigsaw

Review – The Snowman


Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is the first film featured in my Ten Fourth-Quarter 2017 Films to be Excited About! column to be released, alongside A24’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which hits limited release, this weekend, as well.  I’ve actually been more excited for the latter – especially after seeing that the reviews for The Snowman were far less enthusiastic than I had been hoping – but it’s not in my area, yet, so The Snowman gets the nod by default.  Even with the mixed-negative reviews, I was still intrigued by the trailer and the concept, plus I try to see anything that involves J. K. Simmons, so my choice to catch this film tonight was still a fairly easy one to make.

Throughout its marketing, The Snowman has also been very reminiscent of the amazing Wind River, so I was hoping for a similar moviegoing experience.  As I was watching this film, I couldn’t help but think that Alfredson was actually going more for a Silence of the Lambs vibe.  Unfortunately for both the filmmakers and audiences, The Snowman doesn’t even begin to converge upon either of those fantastic crime thrillers.  Still, rarely is a movie all good or all bad, so allow me to break it down.


The basic premise of the film is fairly simple.  Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is investigating a series of murders perpetuated by a serial killer who leaves a snowman as their calling card.  The killer taunts Hole along the way, causing the detective to become increasingly determined to catch the criminal and put a stop to the carnage.

I feel like I’ve said this about a number of recent films, but I want to state that I was taken aback by how amazing The Snowman looks.  Filmed on location,  the beautiful Norwegian landscape provides a much-appreciated change of scenery compared to most major releases.  However, in addition to the snow-covered mountains and fields, Alfredson shows off flowing rivers, majestic architecture, and opulent bridges and roadways.  In fact, the driving scenes are probably my favorite component of the entire film.  When I say that, please understand that I’m talking about ordinary driving scenes, where the characters are simply transporting themselves from one location to the next.  These aren’t chases.  And they aren’t races.  It’s just plain ol’ driving.  But thanks to a combination of Norway’s natural beauty, the Norwegian highway engineers, and Alfredson’s eye for framing a shot, these scenes that would typically function as nothing more than establishing devices are dynamic and attention-getting to the point of being downright breathtaking.


Alfredson’s visual style is exceptional, in general.  Despite the film’s muted color palette, it never ceases to be a pleasure to look at – but that doesn’t necessarily make it a pleasure to watch.  It’s not as bad as that statement makes it sound, but I wasn’t nearly as invested in the film as I wanted to be.  While Alfredson’s eye is gifted, his feels for pacing and energy are lacking, and the script did very little to help matters.  There are several smaller things that bothered me.  For example, Val Kilmer’s ADR (automated dialogue replacement) dubbing both looks and sounds unnatural, leaving me to wonder if he was even doing his own voice.  And there are some odd structural choices, here and there, that get in the way of the story’s efforts to organically unfold.

But those types of issues were infrequent enough that they could be largely overlooked.  The biggest issue with the film is the characters.  Perhaps this isn’t a problem in Jo Nesbø’s novel but, in the film, there isn’t an interesting, charismatic, or entertaining character to be found.  The cast is certainly capable, but they can only do so much when the director prefers to keep the tone subdued and the script provides dialogue that is bland and unremarkable in every way.  This would be a problem in any film but, in a horror/crime film, it’s especially problematic.  If the audience has no connection and/or feels no empathy for any of the characters, then there are no narrative stakes.  It doesn’t matter who dies.  It doesn’t matter why.  And it doesn’t even matter who the killer is.  There are a couple of scenes that provide a little jolt of electricity to the proceedings but, as soon as the viewer feels as if their pulse might finally elevate, the moment is cut off at the knees and the film is back to uneventful conversation.  To compound the issue, the film does a lot of telling instead of showing (perhaps the biggest and most common filmmaking sin), which is simply madness when the filmmakers struggle to tell the audience anything in any sort of engaging manner.


So, overall, The Snowman is a huge disappointment, in my eyes.  What could and should have been a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat thriller was instead a plodding two hours spent with people who are about as interesting as your neighbor’s cousin’s vacation photos.  Unlike many others, I was equally bored by Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I’m not altogether shocked by what the film has turned out to be.  But my hopes were high, anyway, due to some terrific marketing.  I would love to see some of the visuals from the film, again, because they really are dazzling.  But those visuals are wasted on an otherwise undeserving and lifeless movie.

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Review – The Snowman

Review – Happy Death Day


Once again, family commitments kept me from catching this one over opening weekend, but I went out of my way on a Monday to try my best to stay current with as many new releases as I can manage.  From the first trailer for Happy Death Day, I thought this Groundhog Day-meets-Final Destination-meets-Scream concept looked fun and the knowledge that famed comic book writer Scott Lobdell wrote the script did nothing to dissuade me from that impression.  I’m always up for new twists on classic ideas and I was also in the mood for some lighter fare, today.  Heavy is hard to do on a Monday, am I right?

Directed by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), Happy Death Day follows entitled college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe.  And don’t name your kids “Tree”, folks.) on her birthday.  Unfortunately for Tree, her birthday is also the day that she dies, murdered by an unknown assailant.  But, surprise!  After Tree is killed, she wakes up on her birthday again, living through the same sequence of events that she had previously experienced, including another grisly death.  After deducing that she will continue to live through her birthday until she successfully solves her own murder and survives the day, Tree sets out to determine who is out to kill her . . . and why.


I know many will balk at the film simply because it appears to rehash a concept that has been used in many manners across various forms of media throughout the decades.  I don’t buy into that, however, as core concepts are reused regularly in all different types of entertainment.  What matters is whether or not anything new is brought to the (birthday or death day) party and if the end result is worth a new take.

Landon and Lobdell don’t try to insult the audience by pretending that the Groundhog Day gimmick has never been done before.  Rather, they embrace it and inject some vitality into the proceedings by sculpting a murder mystery out of the original clay model.  I have always loved a good mystery and Happy Death Day delivers a satisfying whodunit narrative that is exceptionally nimble on its feet.


I say that due to the fact that the gimmick could have easily been more of a hindrance than a benefit to the story.  Once Tree catches on to what is happening, the pace truly picks up and never looks back.  At this point, the film could have effortlessly devolved into a nonstop parade of repetitive and meaningless death gags, morphing into a predictable and forgettable one-trick pony similar to Saw but without the ethical implications or longstanding mythology.  Thankfully, Landon and Lobdell are prepared for this and, following a supremely amusing montage, they find a way to make the repeated deaths matter again and ensure that the film retains its sense of urgency.  The filmmakers have enough of an understanding of storytelling to recognize that turning the film into a game of Super Mario Brothers in which the player has unlimited lives would be a massive – and lazy – misstep.

In addition to being more than competently structured, the script also offers up everything one would want out of a film called Happy Death Day.  There are plenty of scares and horror (toned down for the PG-13 rating) but there is also a healthy dose of surprisingly effective humor.  Bringing a cornucopia of life and energy to the proceedings is star Jessica Rothe.  As Tree, Rothe displays a vast range of emotions from horror and terror to desperation to resignation to good-humored acceptance to coldheartedness as well as its direct antithesis in genuine warmth.  Admittedly, Tree’s character arc is pretty standard and predictable, but Rothe is having so much fun in the part and exudes such a vast amount of charisma that it doesn’t even matter.  There are also subtle shifts in her day-to-day choices – both big and small – that communicate a shift in her personality and exhibit growth in the more nuanced ways that many genre films often overlook.


The whole film is truly about the journey and not the destination.  The viewer might think they know how it’s all going to end, and maybe they’ll be right.  But they won’t be able to predict the events – events that vary from jocular to dreadful – that will get them there.  Yes, the basic premise has been done numerous times.  But the jokes, the narrative twists, the character moments, and all of the other little details that Happy Death Day has to offer are refreshingly original.  The goal of this film is a singular one: have fun.  And this film is the most pure fun I’ve had at the movies since Atomic Blonde.  If the viewer meets the film where it exists by ceasing to take themselves seriously – just as the film refuses to take itself seriously – then it will be tough not to have a blast at Happy Death Day.

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Review – Happy Death Day

Review – mother!


I couldn’t make it out to see Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, last weekend, and it’s been difficult to avoid hearing about it in the meantime.  Everybody has an opinion – even (unsurprisingly) people who haven’t even seen it.  But general audiences rejected the film soundly, last weekend, which made me even more curious and anxious to see it.

Now that I have, I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts.  I feel like saying almost anything about the story or character content of the film, itself, would be a betrayal of Aronofsky’s artistic intent.  And, being someone who avoids spoiling films and who also respects filmmakers and their respective visions, that makes my job here difficult.


Something I can say is that I might be entirely off base regarding Aronofsky’s intent.  Much like with other filmmakers of his type, such as David Lynch or Terrence Malick, Aronofsky’s films are always open to some degree of interpretation, so it’s possible that my interpretation is all wrong.  But I don’t believe that my assessment of his intent is wrong.  Aronofsky’s intent is to get his audience thinking.  There’s no doubt about that.  Where the problem lies with that specific intent is in the fact that most mainstream moviegoing audiences don’t want to think.  They want everything spelled out for them.  And in mother!, exactly nothing is spelled out for the audience.

So, that leads me to believe that this film is actually less open to interpretation than Aronofsky’s others.  I think there is a specific way to interpret the film – only one correct interpretation with all others being flat-out wrong.  The reason for my belief is the structure of the film.  It is far too meticulous with precisely-worded dialogue, specific plot developments, and even particular casting choices.  Literally every word, every shot, and every interaction contains meaning and holds weight.  Every molecule of this film is a puzzle piece.


And this isn’t the same type of puzzle film that made me so angry in the form of last year’s The Neon Demon.  Unlike that ego-trip of a disaster, mother! gives us all of the puzzle pieces so that the audience knows what it needs to know in order to see the bigger picture.  The film also has a coherent surface narrative that can be followed without looking deeper into the film, which is what I was really angry about regarding The Neon Demon, since its surface narrative was nonsense.  But, though comprehensible, mother!‘s surface story would be remarkably strange without considering what’s going on underneath.  Aronofsky forces the audience to analyze the film or otherwise miss out on the overwhelming majority of the experience.

Make no mistake – this film is absolutely an experience.  I won’t give any clues to the plot or the characters, but to give you an idea of what that experience is like, I’ll say that when I heard the film was like a nightmare, I thought people meant it figuratively, but it turns out they meant it literally.  The pacing is exactly like a bad dream, where one bothersome event is immediately followed by another more bothersome event which is quickly followed by another and then another and another in such a way that they escalate in nature and in scale to an impossible degree.  It’s like an illustration of the Butterfly Effect that grows exponentially so that one can’t even fathom how Point A could have possibly led to Point ZZZ, much less how it happened so quickly.  There is absolutely no time to get bored during this movie; my attention and my brain were both fully engaged from the opening frame and the two hours flew by in what felt like 45 minutes.


I guess this is as good a time as any to squeeze in a mention of Jennifer Lawrence.  While Lawrence is supported by very talented and esteemed actors (Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris) who all do great work, mother! is her film.  And it may be her best work.  I can’t even come close to comprehending how emotionally exhausting this role must have been for her (not to mention physically taxing).  You know those bad days we all have?  Those really bad days?  Those days where maybe three or four intensely overwhelming and stressful things occur and we just can’t wait until we get to tomorrow?  Imagine a day where those sorts of events happen every three minutes.  All day.  And imagine if you had to suffer through a full year of those days, with no respite.  That’s what Jennifer Lawrence did for mother!.  And I know, now that she’s super-successful, it no longer matters how down-to-earth or talented she is and that’s it’s currently in vogue to hate on her (all the kewl kids are doing it!), but she deserves recognition and respect for her performance in this film.  She owns it and she earns it.

Aside from that, I am still fully processing the events of the film.  I have a framework for what I believe Aronofsky intends to be the interpretation, but I’m still putting some of those puzzle pieces in their proper spots.  To fully digest the story, I will have to see it again – probably multiple times.  There’s just no way to completely crack Aronofsky’s code with only a single viewing.  There’s too much going on and, by simply taking a second to step back and think about something that just happened, the viewer will miss out on the next clue.  Multiple viewings are required for full understanding.


But that’s not a bad thing, is it?  It doesn’t mean that the first viewing isn’t rewarding.  It most certainly is.  It simply means that every viewing will continue to be rewarding.  Is that not something to which filmmakers should aspire?

Let’s talk about the audience reaction to this film.  mother! is only the nineteenth film to receive an F Cinemascore from audiences, who were exit-polled on opening night.  Look, I don’t care what people like and what they don’t like.  Truthfully, that can’t be helped.  We don’t actively choose our likes and dislikes.  But what we do choose is how thoroughly and fairly we consider our words, our actions, and how much importance we place on our own opinions.

I loved mother!.  I loved it.  I want to be very clear about that.  It’s one of my favorite films of the year and one of the best, as well.  But, even if I didn’t like it, I would still maintain the capacity for appreciating it.  I could appreciate the artistry.  I could appreciate the thoughtfulness.  I could appreciate the performances.  I could appreciate these people literally suffering – physically and mentally – in their efforts to bring this story to us.  And I would not take my personal opinion so seriously as to equate it with fact and to arrogantly presume that I held the right to casually dismiss someone else’s passion project, especially considering the pedigree and the credibility of the people behind said project.


So, why are general audiences hating the film?  I can’t say for sure, but I have some theories.  One, as I mentioned above, is that they don’t want to think.  That theory has put itself on exhibition many times over the years, both within the world of film and without.  Another theory is one I’ve already discussed in great detail: many of them are hypocrites who claim they want originality from Hollywood but reject it when it arrives (I ranted about that here).  You truly want originality?  Prove it.  mother! is the most original film of the year.  Go.  Enjoy.  Tell your friends.

The third theory is tied to the first.  The third theory is that, in not desiring to think, audiences don’t.  And, in making that choice, they take the film literally.  There are many bizarre events that transpire in mother!.  They aren’t only bizarre but they are often severely disturbing, as well.  But if the brain is engaged, it’s obvious that there’s something else going on within the narrative and that things aren’t necessarily as they seem.  Many viewers are taking the online mentality of reacting first and thinking never into the real world and it’s affecting other people’s work and their success.  And it’s affecting other moviegoers, as well, because every time a film like this fails at the box office, it becomes less likely that we get more films in the same vein.  These moviegoers are directly affecting people like me because they cant be bothered to show respect to a genuine piece of art.


Why do audiences disrespect film, so much?  If a book is deep or thought-provoking, it’s heralded as a classic.  When a musician such as Bob Dylan writes near impenetrable lyrics that most people can’t begin to interpret, audiences bow at his feet and he wins a Nobel Prize.  When television carries true weight and intellect, it’s the talk of water coolers around the world and is considered must-watch.  So, why is it when a film is deep and complex and outside-the-box, audiences shun it, laugh at it, and actively seek to sink it to the bottom of the celluloid sea?

As I left the theater, tonight, the guy in front of me turned back to me and said, “That was stupid.”  What did I say?  I said, “That was anything but stupid.  That was amazing.  There was so much thought and heart put into that that I’ll be thinking about it during my entire hour-long drive home.”  “Well, it was amazing,” he said, “but I’ll also have to go home and read twelve articles on it in order to understand it.”


And, again, I ask . . . what the #$%& is wrong with that?  Why is it so awful to think about something after it’s over?  Why is it so horrible to have to reach out and interact with other people and discuss a piece of art in an effort to gain a full appreciation of the message behind it?  Why is this a bad thing?  Or, perhaps the more appropriate question would be: When did it become a bad thing?

I’ll say it again: I love mother!.  That is my opinion.  mother! is a genuine masterpiece and a work of art that is far superior to most other films that have been released in 2017.  That is an objective fact that takes all the aspects and goals of filmmaking into account.  This film will one day be viewed as a classic work of genius that was misunderstood by an undeserving audience in its day.  By then, I will have seen it umpteen times and will be a better person for it.  Those of you who are willing to expand your mind and grow a little bit, give mother! your money.  It deserves it.  For those who aren’t as willing, Despicable Me 3 is on blu-ray soon.

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Review – mother!