Darren Aronofsky’s latest thriller Mother! has been subject of much discussion in the last week due to the polarised reactions of critics and viewers.
Initial positive reception from critics meant Mother! achieved Rotten Tomatoes’ ‘certified fresh’ rating upon release. However, due to the overwhelmingly negative response from viewers after opening weekend, that has now been withdrawn. So, what is it about the film that has caused such a division in opinion? Without giving anything away, it seems the heavy symbolism attached to the plot, whilst appreciated by some, has been lost on others. There has also been debate over whether the violence and suffering endured by the female lead is gratuitous and inherently misogynistic, or an essential element of the storyline.
Is it dependent on what kind of cinema-goer you are? Some would be of the opinion that whether or not a film is enjoyable, if it keeps you thinking long after you have left the cinema, it inherently has value. In a world of reboots and remakes, surely originality in any form must be applauded?
Pundits have been citing 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and Brad Pritt crime drama Killing Them Softly among films lauded by critics and loathed by the public, but one that springs to mind in terms of extreme reactions on either side is Terence Mallick’s 2011 Tree of Life. Some, myself included, were blown away by its majesty, originality and refusal to be confined to the parameters of conventional storytelling. Others, however, found it laughably pretentious.
Perhaps this is where Mother! meets its downfall. Whilst critics will be entering the cinema with prior knowledge of Aronofsky’s work and the expectation that they may be challenged; cinema-goers will be expecting a film that fits into the thriller/horror category. One of the most prominent criticisms being that Mother! does not.
What does this mean for marketers? Mother! has seen an extensive marketing campaign, with artwork and materials typical of its purported genre. Box office takings have not been overwhelming so far, with the film taking in £832,000 over its opening weekend and ranking #3 at the box office, the number one spot being taken by Stephen King’s It. However, Mother! has seen a huge amount more press and attention following its release, which hints at a longer term and more enduring popularity, with huge home ents potential. Google trend analysis shows that topics relating to Aronofsky have seen breakout results in the past week, evidence that the buzz surrounding the film, good or bad, is keeping it at the forefront of public consciousness past the opening weekend.
As most films expect to see a drop in box office position after their initial release, sometimes of up to 35%, maintaining momentum once those first reviews are out is hugely important. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and it will be interesting to see how Mother! fairs in the coming weeks when compared to its more palatable competition.