Review: Scary Mother // Sashishi Deda (2017)

With a proto-Lynchian dread and unease that stalks the frame at every turn, Scary Mother is an inimitable debut feature from assured Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze. Somewhat reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! which opened earlier this year, Scary Mother is an exploration of the psychic caverns that artists plunge into in pursuit of their art.

Urushadze refreshingly remixes the concept, focusing her film on Manana, a middle-aged housewife-writer, mining her identity as a middle-aged woman for dramatic potential. Where mother! dared itself to compress the entirety of human existence into the confines of a single home, Scary Mother is reflexive, content to turn inwards to map Manana’s inner life onto the industrial gunmetal capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.

Though boasting several competent performances, the film is anchored by Nato Murvanidze’s impressive turn as Manana. Traversing from wounded to flummoxed to baleful in the space of a whisper, Murvanidze inhabits herself fully into the world that Manana has created. In what could have easily turned out as a confused or scattered performance, Murvanidze side-steps and subverts capably, wearing the multiple valences and ambiguities of her character with confidence and conviction.

Supporting her is the suitably panicky performance from Ramaz Ioseliani, who plays Nukri, Manana’s friend and self-declared agent and editor. Bringing the edge of a nervous weasel to his performance, Ioseliani plays it up just enough to suffuse the film with a streak of darkly mordant humour. Nukri’s passion and enthusiasm for Manana’s work drives much of the film, it is he who pushes Manana to complete her novel by providing her with a womblike crimson drenched room to work in and he who crusades on behalf of her for a publisher.

Nika Pasuri’s sparse score winds up the tension in the film ever tighter. His spaced out repertoire of strains, scratches and clicks is a phantasmagoric aural assault, drawing out and building upon the macabre that Urushadze conjures and sustains capably. 

Disappointingly, the sense of menace and portent that Urushadze wields so assuredly never adds up to more. It remains just that, a texture of striking sights and sounds but not much else. The film’s meta-commentary on itself weaves and bobs, eventually folds back and collapses upon on itself, cannibalizing its own impact like an ouroboros. Scary Mother is ultimately a work that is revelatory of its Urushadze’s very impressive directing bones, but it is not transcendent. Not yet at least. 

The film was in competition in the Asian Features category of the 28th Singapore International Film Festival.

Written by Koh Zhi Hao
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