Gemma Creagh peeks through the curtains at Mother’s Instinct. 

Mother’s Instinct is a throwback to another era in cinema, a love letter to classic Hitchcock thrillers executed with style. The film is a remake of Olivier Masset-Depasse’s 2018 French-language film of the same name – which in turn is an adaptation of the successful 2012 novel by Barbara Abel. Yet there’s nothing contemporary in the premise of these two feuding women embodying the classic cliche of moral blonde beauty versus ambiguous brunette, nor in the mostly slow and unstructured pacing of a predictable narrative. 

In 1960s suburbia, Céline (Anne Hathaway) and Alice (Jessica Chastain) are best friends, confidants and next door neighbours with a lot in common: these two wealthy, white, attractive women have suited, slick husbands who drink whiskey from tumblers. Their adorably amiable sons are the exact same age and also happen to be besties. Alice and Céline, of course, wear high heels, corsets, complicated up-dos and full make up to run errands and do school runs. From kitsch school plays to the quaint wooden decking, their whole world is the epitome of Americana. Tragedy hits hard, however, and their idyllic lives are shattered when Céline’s son Max (Baylen D. Bielitz) falls from his balcony. He is killed instantly.

Céline and her gruff husband Damian (Josh Charles) are destroyed; Céline is hospitalised, while Damien drinks himself into a rageful stupor at every opportunity. Life for Alice, her husband Simon (Anders Danielsen Lie) and their allergy-riddled child Theo (Eamon Patrick O’Connell) continues, guiltily, and at a distance. When Céline returns home, seemingly better, she is cold, until she sparks up a friendship with Theo. After a series of strange incidents and “accidents”, Céline begins to suspect Alice’s motives are deadly. All the while everyone in the community sees Alice as a kind woman mourning the loss of her son. And as in all good psychological thrillers before this one, the threat of madness hangs in the air, nothing is quite what it appears to be, and a profound and violent rift grows between these two former friends. 

The French film’s director Olivier Masset-Depasse was originally signed on to helm this English language version too, but interestingly dropped out. In his absence, the remake’s cinematographer Benoit Delhomme stepped in, making this directorial debut after a long career – forty features – working behind the camera. The visual aspects of Mother’s Instinct are impressive. The costume and  production design are breathtaking; every scene features bold props, vivid colour, tailored couture outfits, and rich textures. 

This film and the interactions within these two couples observe the role of women and motherhood while without making a thesis. The unhealthy dynamics in these two classically patriarchal households means Alice feels guilty for wanting to “abandon” her son to return to her former job. At the same time, Céline’s entire identity is so wrapped up in the notion of motherhood, that she’s no longer able to function when her son passes. The male characters serve as a catalyst to heighten the tension: Damian is aggressive and distant; his rage sometimes implies a threat of violence. Simon might be the more moderate of the two, but he’s quick to dismiss his wife’s suspicions, presuming these are the delusions of a hysterical woman and not the honed instinct of a trained journalist. This is further evident in his patronising suggestion for her to write for the school paper instead of returning to the workforce, something he suggests as he pushes her to have a second baby. 

The performances are heightened yet internal… both Hathaway and Chastain lean into the melodrama and sell it well. The pair deliver a plethora of different flavours of madness, rage, pain and fear, initially simmering under a forced decorum.  There’s a masterful back and forth between the two women that is the backbone of this film. This makes the sudden shift at the end of the second act, when there’s a wild deviation in tone, even more jarring. What was unspoken, suspected and inferred, becomes cartoonish. That wonderful emotion bubbling so intensely up boils to villainous vapour. The plot speeds up, taking obvious turn after obvious turn in rapid succession.From the nostalgia to wonderfully camp characterizations, there’s still so much to enjoy. Delivering stylish vintage tension in perfect pastels, Mother’s Instinct features two powerhouse performers at the top of their game. Hathaway and Chastain plumb the depths of the domestic in a two-hander that will not only keep you up at night but ensure your doors are locked and bolted as you lie awake.

Mother’s Instinct is in cinemas 29th March. 



Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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