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7th May 2024

Mothers’ Instinct review: How far will you go to protect your family?

Academy Award Winners Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain have a 1960s face-off in this eerie, twisted game of cat-and-mouse
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Mothers’ Instinct review: How far will you go to protect your family?
Credit: Mothers’ Instinct @ StudioCanal

Mothers’ Instinct delves into the psyche of motherhood and unravels the sacred bond of friendship through deceit and revenge. Powerhouse performances from A-listers Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, an idyllic 1960s production design, and Hitchcockian homages from directorial debutant Benoît Delhomme combine to great effect. However, a sub-par screenplay and frenzied pacing prevent it from reaching its full potential.

The psychological thriller is a direct remake of the 2018 Belgian film Dulles, which itself was a film adaptation of the 2012 novel Behind the Hatred. Set in the suburbs of the 1960s, Celine (Hathaway) and Alice (Chastain) are neighbours and best friends with perfect lifestyles and happy families. However, an unfortunate accident involving one of their sons leaves a grieving mother questioning the integrity of the other’s involvement in the accident. Celine and Alice’s friendship rapidly unfolds and cynical thoughts turn into deceit and violence. Jealousy, manipulation, and revenge take centre stage as both mothers seek retaliation against the other.

The performances from Hathaway and Chastain are layered, manipulative, and grand. Especially in the third act, Hathaway’s performance is nothing short of chilling and spine-tingling. Given they don’t have the absolute best material to work with (I’d say Hathaway was given the better material than Chastain), they use their immense talent to their benefit. These are also very difficult roles since Hathaway and Chastain are close friends IRL and both have their own children. Channelling the dark side of human nature, especially as mothers, has proven to be difficult for them both, but I believe they pulled it off convincingly.

The set design, costume design, and makeup/hairstyling transported me right to the 1960s and I absolutely loved the vintage atmosphere of Mothers’ Instinct. Hathaway and Chastain’s outfits, hair, and makeup were done with such precision and attention and they both appeared well-kept and vibrant. The set design, both indoors and outdoors, was picturesque and charming, evoking a sense of peace and neatness, which, as the film progresses, contradicts the growing disorder between both characters.

Celine and Alice polarize themselves against the tidy, ordered lifestyle they have created which is mainly highlighted through the vibrant and old-fashioned set design. Spacious houses, beautifully maintained gardens, vintage cocktail bars, stained-glass windows, and more all contribute to the perfect lives Celine and Alice had built for themselves, and watching them tear it apart against this delightful backdrop is a key indicator of how trauma, grief, and blame can get us carried away (to the extreme).

While Benoît Delhomme has worked as a cinematographer for most of his career, Mothers’ Instinct hails his directorial debut, and he didn’t sway from using Alfred Hitchcock as an influence. His cinematography talents are on full display, with eerie blue lighting used throughout and off-putting camera angles to unease the viewer. The use of mirrors is one I found to be well-executed, unsettling, and symbolic. The story is visually engaging which definitely increases the suspense in certain moments.

Unfortunately, the film does fall flat in certain areas, beginning with a mediocre screenplay which doesn’t manage to quite capture the downfall of Celine and Alice’s friendship. It almost seems like they are friends one second and the next they are scheming enemies. If the screenplay was a bit longer and able to drag out the transformation from grief to revenge I could’ve felt the effects a bit more, but it all seemed pretty predictable. Moreover, Hathaway and Chastain’s characters feel underwritten; neither actress had any memorable lines and, again, it all sounded pretty generic.

Apart from an average script, the film itself felt too short, or too quickly paced for its 94-minute runtime. We move from event to event with no time to breathe or explanation. This begins right from the start, where we only get 10 minutes of exposition before the tragedy happens. If the film had built up Celine and Alice’s friendship/lifestyle a bit more, we could’ve felt the effects of it falling apart more strongly.

The same goes for the major events that happen throughout Mothers’ Instinct. If we are given more time to establish connections and motives, their collapse will evoke a greater response from us. The game between Celine and Alice is a bit too similar to Pong: back and forth but no time to feel the effects before the next hit comes. While the ending is definitely shocking and horrifying, it leaves the film a bit flat overall and the suspense isn’t built up as greatly as it could have been.

Mothers’ Instinct can ultimately feel a bit stale at times, but take nothing away from the worthy performances and wonderfully crafted 60s atmosphere. The film makes great use of the era and creates a nerve-wracking face-off between two of Hollywood’s most talented actresses.


Fun fact: This film was filmed at my house! I tried not to sound biased about the set design but I really did enjoy how they converted my home to the 1960s and it looked so cool on screen. Definitely go to the cinemas to see it!  (mine is the blue one)

I was also able to meet the two leads, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain!

Credit: Christopher Georgiou @ The Mancunion

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