Review: A Mother's Love (2018)

A Woman, A Mother and A Ghost - for the female in an Asian Horror flick, these are necessary revision, the foundation of stories exchanged on bus rides home, and the thought that plagues us later when we stare at our mothers’ backs wondering if she’d turn around as someone we don’t know. Every time these thoughts revisit, my mother is quick to scare me, but quicker to draw a cross on my forehead to remind me that it’s really her, here to protect me.  

To Joko Anwar, ‘A Mother’s Love’ translates the Mother into something scarier, but also stronger. The actions of Murni - the young mom within the film, are the very actions of Joko’s own mother, like the moment Murni ruins the home she’s evicted from by throwing faeces on its walls. It’s easy to mom-shame Murni for that, but we later see how much more she is willing to fight and struggle if it means being with her son rather than letting go of him for an easier life. 

“So you cannot pinpoint whether she’s a bad person or a good person. But one thing’s for sure, a mother’s love for her children is pure.” - Joko Anwar, on thinking of Murni as a mother.

And when this pure love bleeds harder and fiercer, it becomes the Wewe - a spirit desperate to be a mother. She plagues the dreams of children whenever their mothers threaten to let the Wewe take them away for misbehaving. In the film, Murni discovers the spirit’s army of kidnapped children in the attic of the house she was cleaning. The discovery becomes national news, with scenes of the children being rescued replaying on the TV. But for taking the Wewe’s children away, Murni becomes the target. 

The usual scary things start happening in their home - nightmares, scary sightings, the TV switching itself on, and the Wewe showing herself in the TV’s reflection. The jump scares frighten for a while, but go on for a bit too long. But each scare works to plant fear in Murni, that her Jodi might be taken away from her. We now see that the Wewe also plagues the dreams of mothers, threatening to take their child away for not loving them right. Finally, the audience is let in on something important - Jodi might not actually be real. 

The film took its time to go from a hinted ‘Who are you talking to?’ moment to Murni’s full-on meltdown where she thought she recorded Jodi throwing dirt at her laundry, then saw that it was herself in the video, evicting herself from her own illusion. She runs to seek help at an asylum, unsure about what to do with what she had just realised/recalled - that she lost Jodi and her husband years ago in a car crash.

From the sunlit corner in the asylum, Marissa Anita’s performance as a heartbroken mother is incredibly moving. Her solitude and the slump in her show us that Murni is truly broken from being forced back into the truth of her son. But Murni’s brief exchange with a paranormal expert puts fight back in her - the same fight we saw at the start when Murni and her child were being evicted - as the expert makes Murni realise that shattering her illusion of Jodi was the Wewe’s way of taking her child away from her. She leaves the asylum and runs back danger, back to the attic where the Wewe kept her kids. And there Jodi was, back in her sight, but unsure if he wanted to be back into her arms. 

Murni calls out to her son, her voice carrying so much desperation that any fear would’ve given way. As Jodi runs back into his mother’s arms, the collective relief in the cinema was apparent, but so was the puzzlement at how the story was resolved - the Wewe embracing both mother and son. 

As the lights came on, I initially wished that the ghost was dealt with in another manner - dissolving or dying or just disappearing. But during the Q&A, Joko Anwar painted a clearer picture about the mother’s love that he wanted to explore, allowing a slow, personal realisation
on my part.

The Wewe was borne out of a yearning to be a mother, a love for a child and a family. For her to disappear as an end would be easy, but perhaps in deliberately showing the Wewe embracing mother and son, Joko Anwar also addresses how this love is not exclusive. Because it is a pure emotion, this purity does not stop at humans, but lives with anyone and anything that experiences a mother’s love.

Review by Priscilla Liew
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