“…Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses…”

Wayward Wolf.

Someone said to me recently that they no longer went to the cinema because everything had been done already, and no-one was bringing anything particularly new to the table.

There’s certainly a partial argument in there, and there’s no doubt that we’re all on the receiving end of more than our fair share of formulaic drivel that comes spewing forth from ‘the machine’ with depressing regularity.

But that’s why it’s such a joy when films as original and utterly enthralling as Mother, hit the big screen, and by all accounts this one has been dividing audiences the length and breadth of the country.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, it tells the tale of a couple. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem), live in a huge house in the middle of the countryside. Impressively, Mother has taken it upon herself to completely refurbish this previously fire-damaged property, and her considerable handiwork – of which she is rightly very proud – is now nearing the point of completion.

Him is a renowned poet and author and much older than his beautiful partner. Much to his frustration he is suffering from writer’s block. Mother is nothing if not wonderfully empathetic to his plight and supportive to the last, ensuring that she attends to his every need. Despite the occasionally aloof, slightly distracted nature of her man, the couple nonetheless seem well enough matched and in love.

Events, however, start to get a little interesting following an unexpected visit one night from a doctor, (Ed Harris), and a little later, from his wife, (Michelle Pfeiffer); two apparent strangers, whose erratic behaviour begins to ring alarm bells in Mother’s head.

But they are merely the tip of the iceberg for what is to come.

A catalogue of progressively bizarre happenings is set to break apart – with increasing regularity – the carefully assembled pieces of the home that Mother has built, throwing her well ordered life into almost unimaginable turmoil.

From fairly innocuous beginnings, Aronofsky is unafraid to completely change the film’s trajectory, something that he implements skilfully, ramping up the intensity as he goes. And like the curve on a hockey stick, the impending madness of the couple’s situation increases exponentially until such a point that you’d swear that you were in fact watching something totally different by the film’s end. Yet, everything is very closely and cleverly connected throughout, with the smallest, most subtle of clues dropped strategically here and there throughout the piece, hinting at the hellish events that await.

Mother is enormously entertaining. A film that positively whisks its viewer along, wide-eyed and slack jawed, to its crazy conclusion, challenging one’s perceptions of what constitutes unacceptably bad taste, in the process. One hell of a ‘marmite movie’, if ever there was one.

In much the same way that László Nemes chose to almost exclusively use medium close-up shots of his chief protagonist’s face in the superb, Son of SaulAronofsky here, elects to employ a similar, if slightly less relentless and claustrophobic technique, on his leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence. Her facial expressions convey the anguish of Mother quite brilliantly, as she is dragged mercilessly through the wringer, experiencing the entire gamut of emotions in the process. Her initial expression of sweetness and innocence quickly switches to one of troubled confusion, then disdain, exasperation and ultimately outright unadulterated fear. By all accounts Lawrence was prone to hyperventilating during the making of this film, and it’s certainly easy to see why.

Javier Bardem is mesmerising as Mother’s apparently caring partner whose penchant for generosity, helping others and sharing everything is gradually exposed for what it really is. Harris and Pfeiffer, amongst others, are wonderful in their wholly sinister cameo roles, flagrantly disrespecting both Mother and the home that she has so lovingly created. And all the while, Him insists upon Mother’s patience and trust in the unfolding melee, as things go rapidly from bad to worse.

In much the same way that Damien Chazelle‘s marvellous Whiplash generated such complete and utter emotional engagement from its audience, Darren Aronofsky’s film demands and very much receives a similar response.

Engaging, seductive, confusing, shocking and at times terrifying, Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses in the process.

See it.
















“…going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, [The Ritual] sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.”

Wayward Wolf.

The Ritual tells the tale of four close friends who find themselves hiking through the hills of Sweden.

Curiously, this is not actually even their idea – far from it in fact – but a trip organised in memoriam, Robert (Paul Reid), a recently departed friend, tragically killed when caught up in the middle of a violent robbery.

Amsterdam, Ibiza and Berlin. These were the more realistic ideas mooted by the collective on an evening when Robert’s suggestion of hiking had gone down like a lead balloon.

Still, here they are, traipsing across the Swedish countryside on a trip that is particularly poignant for Luke (Rafe Spall). He too had been caught up in the robbery, but hidden behind a stack of shelves and frozen with fear, he had failed to summon up the courage to intervene. Consequently, Luke had watched his friend be bludgeoned to death by an assailant armed with a baseball bat.

This level of guilt, and an inner paranoia that his close friends all blame him for Robert’s demise, play heavily upon Luke’s mind.

It’s an interesting back story, and offers The Ritual a little more depth than your average horror / thriller. That said, if this initial premise had in any way mislead you into believing that what was to follow would be high on originality, you are sadly mistaken.

When you boil it all down, The Ritual is a fairly formulaic piece, and it’s therefore no surprise when Dom (Sam Troughton) – the slightly portly moaning one – having twisted his knee during the hike, forces the group to re-think their plans and take a shortcut through rather ominous looking dense woodland.

Now that’s just asking for trouble.

And so it proves to be.

Stumbling upon a freshly gutted moose carcass suspended high up in a tree, and hopelessly lost with no chance of reaching their target destination, the pioneering foursome take refuge from a particularly heavy rainy deluge, in an apparently abandoned wooden hut. Discovering a part moose, part human straw effigy erected in the hut’s loft space does nothing to put anyone’s mind at ease. Regardless, in this instance, in is better than out, and the lads hunker down for the night around the security of a lit stove, vowing to push on out first thing in the morning.

That’s the plan at least, but the morning is going offer all manner of unwelcome surprises…

With obvious influence taken from some of the better horror films of the not so distant past – think Blair Witch, Wrong Turn, The Witch, and The Whicker Man – The Ritual does at least approach things from a cinematically successful angle, and going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.

However, once the gang finally realise exactly what they’re up against, this tale of hunter and hunted fast descends into an all too familiar state of predictability, and sadly succumbs to the temptation for ‘the big reveal’, diffusing most of the tension that’s been carefully nurtured to this point.

Whilst Hutch (Robert James-Collier), and Phil (Arsher Ali), are portrayed well enough, they are in many ways fairly dispensable characters, and it’s Sam Troughton and in particular, Rafe Spall, that really steal the show, dragging this OK-ish piece through to its conclusion thanks to their all-round Englishness, a generous smattering of dry humour, and a petty disrespect for one another.

At times witty and irreverent, and always leaning heavily on the use of metaphors, it’s hard to dislike this David Bruckner horror, and it’s only fair to say that through excellent casting and some occasionally disturbing set pieces, he’s created a film that’s certainly very watchable; it might even get under your skin a bit, but more likely, will leave its audience just a little underwhelmed.


“Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom.”

Wayward Wolf.

In the grip of a cold snap, the Indian reservation of Wind River is the backdrop to this Taylor Sheridan murder mystery.

The body of a girl has been found. She lies bare-footed and bloodied in the snow. All signs point to her having been beaten and raped, though it seems the unforgiving sub-zero temperatures of a winter night are what ultimately claimed her life.

But why has this happened, and who are the perpetrators?

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), is an experienced tracker, who, knowing the terrain and considerable perils of the unforgiving Wyoming winter, is drafted in to aid young FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), with her murder enquiries.

Taylor Sheridan’s subtle icey thriller not only pieces together the parts of a murder case, but in doing so, offers a snapshot of the harsh socio-economic conditions afflicting a small under privileged community of native American folk, for whom drug addiction is rife, and an ingrained reluctance to cooperate with the white man is commonplace. No wonder, given the uneasy history between the two cultures.

Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom. He is also a man nursing considerable personal pain from his past, for whom this case can prove to be something of a cathartic process. Crucially, he is a well respected figure amongst the Native American community. Elizabeth Olsen is perhaps initially a little underwhelming, yet steadily grows into the part to produce a performance that in fact perfectly captures a combination of raw enthusiasm, naivety and understandable trepidation, given her Las Vegas background, and the alien nature of both the environment in which she now finds herself, and the culture of the people for whom she must try to solve this case.

Sheridan’s tale is a beautifully paced affair, expertly revealing itself little by little. Such an approach should not come as any surprise for those familiar with the style and excellence of his two most recent acclaimed screenplays, Sicario and Hell or High Water.

The wind-swept, wintry backdrop sets the perfect mood here for a film that effortlessly marries moments of high tension with brooding melancholy and somber reflection in this highly affecting, and almost certainly enduring tale.


“The Snowman struggles under the weight of its own considerable budget and expectations, offering little or nothing of the mood and atmosphere that’s so synonymous with Scandinavian film and television.”

Wayward Wolf.

We all love a good Nordic crime thriller, don’t we? There’s just something captivating about those mysterious grey, snow-covered wintry settings, and the rather serious and at times aloof nature of the Nordic people. It just draws us in…

Unfortunately just basing a film upon a Norwegian novel and having it set in its correct location, is nowhere near enough to qualify it as being anything like a good Nordic crime thriller.

The Snowman, a case in point, is the handiwork of director, Tomas Alfredson, the man tasked with directing 2008’s excellent Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in). Such fine past credentials should surely have hinted at much better than this rather beige offering.

We could talk about under-cooked characterisation, or a general paucity of suspense created, but perhaps the film’s chief flaw is its mad combination of accents. A mixture of soft Norwegian, identity-neutral, soft American, and even cockney English, all seem hopelessly out of place given the film’s wintry Oslo setting, particularly when you consider that theoretically pretty much every one of the cast is supposed to be a Norwegian, living a Norwegian life.

It’s all just confusing, and detracts heavily from a story that whilst functional enough, is not particularly earth-shatteringly original in its concept, anyway.

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), is the flawed detective who takes it upon himself to investigate a series of disappearances, aided by an accomplice, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who is young and hungry for success and very much in awe of Hole’s reputation.

Passing cameos from Chloë Sevigny and Toby Jones, together with more significant parts from Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons – and not forgetting a particularly curious turn from Val Kilmer, playing a perma-pissed police detective who’s all ‘Dave Nice’ teeth and bad hair, certainly help to raise the film’s profile on paper, but again, they’re all rather out of place given the fundamentals of the setting and the story.

The Snowman struggles greatly under the weight of its own considerable budget and expectations, offering little or nothing of the mood and atmosphere that’s so synonymous with Scandinavian film and television.

Not entirely without its positives – it is at least visually beautiful – Alfredson’s film, on balance, is nothing more than a formulaic and fairly forgettable yarn. Were the story adapted for a U.S setting, or better still re-cast for native Norwegian speakers, perhaps The Snowman could have been an altogether different beast, but as it stands, it has to be chalked up as a significant missed opportunity.




“Giacometti – played with superb levels of gruff indifference, by Geoffrey Rush – is portrayed as an incommunicative, self-absorbed, chain-smoking enigma…”

Wayward Wolf.

There is a belief within the world of popular music that you never actually complete a record’s final mix, you simply abandon it.

I have to concur, whole-heartedly.

And if Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait is anything to go by, then there’s a strong argument that such a line of thinking also runs true through the world of fine art.

Not that that would necessarily come as a shock to anyone given that both disciplines are blessed and indeed cursed by the same common denominator – artistic temperament.

That inner-belief that it is in fact impossible to complete any ‘art’ to perfection – or even simply to a level that can sufficiently appease an artiste – very much forms the crux of Final Portrait, a film that observes, patiently, the perpetually chaotic and rudderless daily artistic struggles of the Swiss painter and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti.

Giacometti – played with superb levels of gruff indifference, by Geoffrey Rush – is portrayed as an incommunicative, self-absorbed, chain-smoking enigma, whose life seems anchored by just two ‘constants’: A need to create, and frequent rendezvous with a high-class prostitute for whose services he is happy to pay, handsomely, and from whom he seems to derive the necessary verve and vigour with which to tackle each and every day.

Tucci’s film focuses on one particular episode in Giacometti’s later years when he offers to paint a portrait of his friend, the American writer and art aficionado, James Lord (Armie Hammer). As the film’s title suggests, this will be Alberto’s final portrait.

Though a busy man, Lord is able to shuffle his schedule accordingly to afford Giacometti a few days in which to paint his portrait, something that Lord is both tremendously excited about and honoured to be a part of.

Excitement is one thing, but perhaps Ghandi-esque levels of patience may have been a better quality for Lord to have brought to the table when it quickly becomes apparent to him that Giacometti is caught in a sort of never-ending cyclical rut. Approaching the mythical point of portrait completion, he repeatedly chooses, in some sort of cathartic process, to deliberately sabotage his work and begin the entire process all over again. There would seem to be no end in sight.

As frustrating as this may be, it does enable the pair to build up a close, if rather off-beat friendship, introducing James Lord to the bizarre world of Alberto Giacometti, and to the poor unfortunates that must grin and bear his selfish, self-doubting nature and chaotic personality traits.

That said, no-one could say that time spent in the great man’s company was ever necessarily dull. On one notable occasion, Tucci illustrates Giacometti’s playfully devious darker side when conversation turns to, of all things, preferred methods of suicide. Giacometti understandably shocks Lord with his own particular preference – being burned alive. There really is no response to that.

Final Portrait is all about characters, and Geoffrey Rush – bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late artist himself – is wonderful as Giacometti, portraying the man as a rather bedraggled character shuffling about awkwardly through his daily disorganised existence.

Armie Hammer’s portrayal of Lord is both suave and charming, whilst Sylvie Testud plays the endlessly patient, long-suffering, Annette, whose life – against her better judgement – revolves around an ungrateful man who’d rather spend time with hookers than offer even the slightest sign of commitment to her.

It’s a fairly tragic spectacle, unlike Stanley Tucci’s film, which is a warm and playful character study – as highly intriguing as it is quietly endearing.