Mothers’ Instinct (2024)

Mothers’ Instinct Review

Mothers’ Instinct

However, Benoît Delhomme’s 2018 redux of the cool Belgian thriller litters pastel-perfect domestic melodrama with blood-red horror and still doesn’t have the necessary tonal control to stop us from chuckling.

However, not every great film is necessarily a good time either. On this count, look at “Mothers’ Instinct,” suburban psychodrama set in the 1960s that is too silly to make sense and too reserved to be considered go-for-broke camp but it’s also compulsive enough, twisty enough and finally deranged enough to keep us tuned in throughout its entire tonal and narrative lane-changing. Hathaway’s sly high-gloss vamping points towards a more brittly amusing movie than Chastain’s earnest emotional commitment does turning their characters’ escalating picket-fence battle into a compelling tussle for the soul of the script itself. One wins, but not simply so.

But then first-time feature filmmaker Benoît Delhomme can do little with this strange wriggling story which needs an assertive stylist who will want to pitch high (in this case, anyway) and maintain that through with gusto. The gifted cinematographer behind Tran Anh Hung’s “The Scent of Green Papaya” and Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” among others, Delhomme also assumes camera duties on Mothers’ Instinct, giving proceedings a consistent visual quality the whole film seems like it takes place in middle-American springtime forever shimmery young greens and soft sunlight everywhere that never really congeals into atmosphere. For instance, Todd Haynes doing a remake of Desperate Housewives might help one get what “Mothers’ Instinct” has its sights on although the movie seems overworked and its humor uneven at times. It has already been released in several international markets and Neon will release it in the US at an unspecified date.

Delhomme was a last-minute substitute for director Olivier Masset-Depasse who did have a control over the material: He wrote and directed the much better 2018 Belgian thriller by the same name (or “Duelles” as they say in French) from which Sarah Conradt has closely adapted “Mothers’ Instinct.” That tightness, that purposefulness with which the original mimicked Hitchcock is missing from this remake, as careening and conflicted as it may be; instead, Delhomme’s film is too sharp and nasty to ever be boring. Baetens and Coesens in their original do not have Veerle Baetens and Anne Coesens’ performances had as precisely mannered intensity as Chastain’s and Hathaway’s in this new version but they offer a fascinatingly contradictory take on Betty Draper ideal of female beauty unraveled by nerves and poise respectively.

The first evidence of the differences between Céline (played by Hathaway) and Alice (played by Chastain) becomes evident in their parenting roles as they try to bring up Max (Baylen D. Bielitz) and Theo (Eamon Patrick O’Connell), only children who are of the same age, thereby, leading to a friendship just like that between their mothers. Céline is more a fun mom, her lenience reflecting the difficulties she encountered attempting to conceive; compared to which Alice seems relatively uptight due to some hidden history of mental health problems. Is it because they understand one another genuinely or are they merely the closest allies during this period when feminism has not yet taken root? This question starts making sense after Max falls off his bedroom balcony and dies horribly while both women start distancing themselves from each other although their hitherto distinct personae have become blurred.

Behind her veil one that isn’t out of place on an overly stylish woman’s face at a funeral made by Mitchell Travers with the costume designer Céline appears to be blaming Alice silently for not having stopped the fall earlier. On her part, Alice begins questioning herself whether she did everything possible given that these two ladies used to be so close but now seem very distant even though they still keep their previous social circle. However, Simon, who is an ineffective husband for Alice (a strange cast choice for Anders Danielsen Lie), prefers keeping his distance while Damian (an ensemble standout played by Josh Charles in an underwritten role), Celine’s heartbroken husband drowns himself in drink as he tries isolating himself from everyone else. In their absence, however, there remains only one point of dispute between these two otherwise isolated antagonists whose fault is Theo?

Celine flirts well seduces him all over again while Alice becomes increasingly more worried about him: Is Conradt’s grieving neighbor simply looking for an outlet to channel her emotions or acting out of some kind of jealous hatred? For the second act, Conradt’s script plays a lengthy game of “he said, she said” between one person growing paranoid and the other overstepping and then keeps swapping sides, refusing to be committed until it takes off into absurdity. At that point also, when opponents can recognize themselves in these figures, we are still not taking any sides as viewers – their inner lives seem too opaque and their outward behavior too much to believe at this stage that “Mother’s Instinct” is little more than cool morbid curiosity maybe even a little more laughter than its writer anticipated.

No one is laboring here without care. Hathaway’s proud widow-like combination of haughty and unfriendly manners has as much fierceness as Chastain in her most imperfect vanilla piegirl moments.” This rigid mise-en-scene by Delhomme keeps up with their dedication: no matter how bright the costumes or furniture may be. Yet “Mother’s Instinct” holds its breath: it is not grand melodrama; it does not have the panache of noir at all. And like them, our film twitches along trying to work out what it really is while we wait excitedly for its fall.

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