So TIFF has been over for weeks now, and I'm just wrapping up my reviews. Perhaps it was burnout, or a busy schedule. Or maybe it was that my final two films didn't wow me enough to get the word out as quickly as possible. Likely, it was a combination of all these factors.
Mother (Madeo) is the latest from director Bong Joon-Ho, who brought us The Host a couple years ago. Where his previous film was about a giant tadpole terrorizing a dysfunctional Korean family, this effort focuses on a murder's effect on a mother and son.
Do-joon is a man-child. A young man with a slight mental disability, he's lived under his mother's skirt his entire life. She constantly watches over him, to the point where he has grown annoyed with her overprotective nature and starts lashing out.
A murder in a small town always creates interest. Leaving the body for all to see is obviously the product of a depraved mind. But could Do-joon really have done it? Or is he just an easy target who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? The police believe the case closed, but his mother refuses to accept that her son could be guilty. She sets out to prove his innocence, with the entire town against her.
As with any murder mystery, everything is not as it seems. Secrets about the murdered girl come to light, unknown witnesses are revealed, and red herrings are thrown to the audience and then dismissed.
I found myself frequently wondering where the movie was going. Joon-Ho's choices make him seem like a novice revisiting familiar clichés that interrupt the flow of the story. Suspects become allies, friends become adversaries, and the path of investigation takes some confusing turns. The attempt to show a mother unravelling swings between working and overreaching. The moments of tension and intelligence were sometimes offset by periods of apathy. I grew increasingly disappointed as the movie progressed.
Until the end.
The story takes an unexpected series of turns, well hidden by the familiarity that had so bothered me to that point. How far will a mother go to prove her son's innocence? Does guilt from past misdeeds lead to perpetual overcompensation? At what price does freedom come?
Mother could benefit from some further editing to improve its pacing. The final payoff, however, is worth the minor inconvenience of the flawed moments. Certainly not my favourite of the fest, but I don't regret having chosen it.