Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah). His best films are unforgiving explorations of artistic ambition (Black Swan), addiction (Requiem for a Dream) or mortality (The Wrestler), admittedly big themes. But this bonkers family horror movie perhaps has more in common with his ambitious existential sci-fi epic The Fountain: this is a resolutely symbolic movie that's impossible to take literally. And yet it still freaks us out.
It's set in a huge isolated house, which a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) has been restoring for her older poet husband (Javier Bardem) after it burned down. Just as it's beginning to look good, and she starts thinking about starting a family, the husband invites a stranger (Ed Harris) to stay, and he encroaches on their hospitality by inviting his pushy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their bickering sons (real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson). After causing some chaos, they finally leave, the wife falls pregnant and the husband's writers' block finally breaks. But his new book inspires so much adulation from his fans that their happiness is in jeopardy.
It's clear from the start that these aren't actual people. Lawrence is playing a representation of female roles: the home, the ultimate mother. Bardem is the creator who isn't paying attention to anything else around him. The plot can be read as a summary of the Bible (Old and New Testaments). But more intriguing are elements that parallel the filmmaking process itself, struggling to assemble a work of art then presenting it to the public, who tear it to pieces. Although if Aronofsky really believes that making movies is this horrific, then he should probably be doing something else.
Because the film does escalate into some seriously mind-blowing mayhem, skilfully assembled to play on the audience's most primal sensitivities. The actors are excellent, with Lawrence investing so much wrenching emotion that it's no wonder she injured herself in the process. Bardem has a steelier role, but the tone is just right. Alongside them, Harris and Pfeiffer are hilariously over the top, while Wiig has a madcap role as the poet's super-frantic agent.
Aronofsky holds closely to the wife's perspective all the way through, which forces the audience to see every encroachment on the house as a menace. This makes even the sillier moments darkly freaky, and when a party gets out of control, reaching almost apocalyptic destruction, it's genuinely harrowing. It's certainly unlike any movie we've ever seen, and if these were people instead of symbols we might have felt everything even more intensely.
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Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Protozoa Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Producer: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel
Screenwriter: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence as Grace, Javier Bardem as Eli, Ed Harris as Man, Michelle Pfeiffer as Woman, Domhnall Gleeson as Oldest Son, Cristina Rosato as Novitiate, Patricia Summersett as Consoler, Jovan Adepo as Cupbearer, Brian Gleeson as Younger Brother, Alain Chanoine as Underling (uncredited), Xiao Sun as Fan, Marcia Jean Kurtz as Thief, Mercedes Leggett as Underling (uncredited), Kimberly Lafferriere as Underling (uncredited), Hamza Haq as Refugee, Gregg Bello as Pisser, Stanley B. Herman as Pervert, Sabrina Campilii as Good Samaritan, Amanda Chiu as Damsel, Eric Davis as Bumbler, Raphael Grosz-Harvey as Philanderer, Emily Hampshire as Fool, Abraham Aronofsky as Wanderer, Luis Oliva as Idler, Stephanie Ng Wan as Whisperer, Stephen McHattie as Zealot, Ambrosio De Luca as Defiler, Arthur Holden as Lingerer, Henry Kwok as Loiterer, Alexander Bisping as Aesthete, Koumba Ball as Epicure, Robert Higden as Drunkard, Elizabeth Neale as Devotee, Kristen Wiig as Herald, Scott Humphrey as Abettor, Anton Koval as Plunderer, Carolyn Fe as Pilferer, Pierre Simpson as Initiate, Mylene Savoie as Supplicant, Gitz Crazyboy as Hewer, Shaun O'Hagan as Coppersmith, Mizinga Mwinga as Deputy, Genti Bejko as Whoremonger, Andreas Apergis as Slave Driver, Julianne Jain as Executioner, Julien Irwin Dupuy as Soldier, Bronwen Mantel as Penitent, Amanda Warren as Healer, Mason Franklin as Devourer, Laurence Leboeuf as Maiden, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse as Foremother, Deena Aziz as Refugee (uncredited), Chloë Bellande as Sex Slave (uncredited), Adam Bernett as Protester #1 (uncredited), Izabela Dąbrowska as Refugee (uncredited), Bineyam Girma as Protester #2 (uncredited), Hamza Haq as Refugee (uncredited), Oliver Koomsatira as Protester #3 (uncredited), Vitali Makarov as Refugee (uncredited), Danny MAlin as Paparazzi #2 (uncredited), Serge Martineau as Dead Body (uncredited), Fred Nguyen as Looter 1 (uncredited), Daniela Sandiford as Refugee (uncredited), Xiao Sun as Fan (uncredited), Nathaly Thibault as Rave Dancer (uncredited), Melissa Toussaint as Fan #3 (uncredited)
Also starring: Darren Aronofsky