Mothers’ Instinct Review

Mothers' Instinct
A tragic accident alters the bond between best friends and next-door neighbours Celine (Anne Hathaway) and Alice (Jessica Chastain), pushing their friendship — and their sanity — to the brink. Can either of them survive the swirling guilt and paranoia that’s overwhelmed their picture-perfect world?

by Barry Levitt |
Published on

The ennui of suburban life is a well-trodden subject of cinema, peeling back the layers of a seemingly picturesque existence into something more sinister. Enter Mothers’ Instinct, a familiar yet intriguing new addition to the cinematic ’burbs. Making his directorial debut, Benoît Delhomme's experience as a cinematographer pays off handsomely in this 1960s-set drama. Shots are beautifully and mysteriously composed. The exquisite costuming also does valuable storytelling, with colour palettes incisively reflecting the mothers’ emotional states. Everything is gorgeous to behold on the surface, which makes the darkness that lies beneath (and there's plenty of it) all the more delectable.

Mothers' Instinct

The real power of Mothers’ Instinct lies in its dynamite cast. Hathaway, whose hair and costuming has echoes of Jackie Kennedy, is outstanding as a mother trying to reacclimate to society after a terrible loss. It's the hints at something more sinister lying behind the sincerity of her performance that makes her such a treat to watch. Chastain provides a worthy foil, suffering from her own overpowering guilt and anxiety while simultaneously trying to create an idyllic life for her husband and son.

It’s a thrill of its own to have two performers at the top of their game play off each other.

The pair have starred in films together before (Interstellar and Armageddon Time), but in Mothers’ Instinct, they finally get to share a frame. It’s a thrill of its own to have two performers at the top of their game play off each other, and their chemistry is every bit as exhilarating as trying to figure out the film’s next move. Supporting performances impress, too — though their characters are not as rich, Josh Charles impresses as a father struck by grief, and Anders Danielsen Lie makes the most of his role as a rather generic unsupportive husband.

Tension builds steadily and menacingly throughout Mothers’ Instinct. While the time period and subject matter may seem like a natural fit for melodrama, Delhomme plays things surprisingly even-handedly. It's a choice that pays off, letting the actors guide the emotions without the overbearing strings you'd expect from the genre. The scope of the story is purposefully limited, resulting in a few scenes that feel somewhat samey, but overall, this is a taut, emotive thriller you won’t soon forget.

Sophisticated, adult thrillers are few and far between, and Mothers’ Instinct fills the void admirably. With vivid, striking imagery and top-notch production design, the film paints an exciting, moreish portrait of psychological intrigue.
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