CINEMA: Mothers’ Instinct: twisty thriller will keep you guessing

Mothers' Instinct (15), (94 mins), Cineworld Cinemas
Mothers' Instinct (contributed pic)Mothers' Instinct (contributed pic)
Mothers' Instinct (contributed pic)

After a run of fairly duff films in recent weeks, here’s exactly what we need right now: a deliberately old-fashioned twisty-turny thriller which will keep you guessing pretty much right the way through to the end.

With plenty of nods to Hitchcock both in style and content, director Benoît Delhomme takes us persuasively back to the 1960s. Clothes, food, hair, décor, manners, it all feels authentically spot on, and it’s in this context that we meet neighbours and besties Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway, Alice and Céline respectively.

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They are both mums of one; their boys, both the same age, attend the same school; and the women are joined by their hubbies in a suburban contentment which sees them boozily celebrating Céline’s birthday into the early hours. Except there are tensions. Alice wants to get back to work while it’s clear Céline is harbouring something: she can’t have any more children.

And then tragedy strikes when Céline’s son falls to his death from her balcony while, domestic goddess like, she hoovers downstairs. But equally it all comes down to Alice’s ability to crawl through a hedge quickly enough. She can’t. From her own garden, she sees the boy in danger but simply cannot get to him in time, and before long there is simmering blame on one side and barely-suppressed guilt on the other, undermining a friendship which had seemed so perfect. Within weeks, there’s another death which may well on the surface be perfectly natural. Except there are plenty of reasons for thinking it isn’t. And soon, with suspicion and resentment out of control either side of the fence, the friends are enemies, leaving the audience firmly planted somewhere in the middle. Is Alice right to be so wary of Céline or is this simply some kind of mental fragility on Alice’s part showing through? Either way, Alice’s young son is the key to it all, the survivor who is increasingly drawn to his dead mate’s mum – much to Alice’s annoyance. The husbands are drawn into it too, critical of their wives in differing ways in the battle of wills which starts to unfold.

It's very nicely and very effectively done for the most part as you find yourself siding with first one and then the other. Director Delhomme ratchets up the tension skilfully. You know something pretty awful is on the horizon. You just can’t tell which way it is going to fall, with Chastain and Hathaway relishing all the ambiguities of the mothers they play. The position of the apostrophe in the title matters. Instincts from both the mothers pull us into increasingly murky waters.

Inevitably almost, and as so often with this kind of film, the resolution stretches credibility, but the strength of the film is that you are so enthralled anyway that it barely matters. It’s a film which manipulates and does so well. Only afterwards will you ponder just how likely it all was. All the while it lasts, it’s creepy and enjoyable. Fine performances all round make this a dark and threatening film to savour.

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