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Mother’s Instinct ★★★



Released: 27 March 2024

Director: Benoit Delhomme

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Anders Danielsen Lie, Josh Charles

A mother’s love is known to be one of the deepest loves possible. But, when life causes an unwitting change to a mother’s role, what happens to that love? This question amongst others surrounding the mother and child bond are explored in Mothers’ Instinct. A star-studded atmospheric, suspense-filled psychological thriller from first time director, Benoît Delhomme.

Mothers’ Instinct is the English language remake of the award-winning Belgian film Duelles which in turn was inspired by the book Derrière La Haine by Barbara Abel. As such, there is a literary undercurrent to the film which explores the emotional devastation surrounding two close friends, Alice (Jessica Chastain) and Céline (Anne Hathaway) when their friendship bond is tested by tragedy. The fact that Chastain and Hathaway are real life friends pitted against each other, within the film, adds a further level of intrigue as the drama unfolds.

Indeed, this tale of 1960s suburbia retains a feminine voice throughout. It is the lives of the mothers that are the centre point of the overwhelming emotion. Both Chastain and Hathaway excel within their roles, as wives and mothers portraying differing perspectives within a changing era. Céline depicts the epitome of the perfectly coiffed woman, resembling Jackie Onassis within many scenes in her fashion choices,  whose life revolves around her child and the home. Whereas Alice has desires to return to work, whilst engaging in dinner party political discussions with her husband Simon (Anders Danielsen Lie) as a progressive ally.

Their worlds may seem disparate but Alice and Céline appear to have bonded, as neighbours, through their school age sons and even access each others houses without needing a key. As such, the women inevitably turn towards each other during the moment of grief. But, the film also unveils an underlying tension as doubt and distrust creep in.

Delhomme proves to be masterful in crafting these darker elements of the tale where distrust and suspicion seep throughout the idyllic 60s structure. A sense of fear develops with Chastain and Hathaway displaying the strength of their emotional range, delivering an acting masterclass tinged with anguish and paranoia demonstrating the darker recesses of the human condition. Delhomme works well with Chastain and Hathaway’s talents to provide a layer of terror where nursery rhymes such as ‘Did Your Ever See a Lassie’ even seem unnerving.

Yet, the film relies on unspoken terror via lingering glances and a mother’s anxiety for her child’s wellbeing to convey added depth behind everyday fears. The result is comparable to Chabrol and Hitchcockian thrillers but doesn’t fully commit to the genre. Instead, the eeriness is suggested by the colour grading within the film with hues of blue during moments of tragedy and heavy uses of shadows within a house to create unsettling moments, which may leave audiences feeling unsatisfied.

The slow pacing may test the audience’s patience too as there is insufficient development of the characters despite the emotive nature of the film. Chastain and Hathaway perform superbly within the context of the material that they are given but audiences may be left wanting more from the film, when it chooses to maintain a distance.

Mothers’ Instinct may be a psychological drama but it is carried by the efforts of both Chastain and Hathaway who make this a compelling watch. The film’s meditative approach leaves a plodding tale that is unfortunately unable to redeem itself despite ratcheting up the tension for its climax. This may be one of those cases where an English language remake was unnecessary as, despite being stylishly filmed, most of its intended impact appears to have been lost in translation.

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