Paramount Pictures' new film, Mother!, has left audiences divided. Due to its strong thematic elements, the film has even polarized critics. The backlash that Mother! has received can be seen clearly in its opening weekend box office performance, a mere $7.5 million for this major studio-backed production. But regardless of audience's adverse reactions to Mother! and bombing at the box office, Paramount is defending its original creation, as one would expect them to do. In Mother!'s defense, Paramount Pictures' President of Marketing and Distribution Megan Colligan said via The Hollywood Reporter:
This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don't want all movies to be safe. And it's okay if some people don't like it.
Colligan's point is entirely understandable. Lately, top Hollywood studios like Sony and Universal are seemingly giving their directors more creative freedom, which could be why we've been getting so many great original films this year like Baby Driver and Get Out. But what went wrong with Mother! has nothing to do with it being an original movie; it has to do with the film's marketing.
Why Mother! Bombed While Baby Driver And Get Out Flourished
Frankly, Mother! bombed because it was falsely marketed. It also didn't help that the film itself challenged the widely-accepted idea of a loving God, which is, in and of itself, a bold, risky move. In this sense, that it has some controversial themes, the film is just not for mainstream audiences. This is especially true for audiences who thought Mother! was going to be a die-hard horror thriller, as it was marketed to be.
But the same can be said about Universal's original hit, Get Out. The film's marketing was not faulty, but like Mother!, Get Out's themes on systemic racism and social hypocrisy were also bold and risky. So why did it work for Get Out and not for Mother!? Well, audiences were able to connect emotionally due to real-world events, and the film connected particularly well with minority audiences who are victims of racism and discrimination in today's society: Muslims, Asians, Latinos like myself, and particularly African Americans.
In contrast, there really isn't a concrete message Mother! is trying to tell, which is not a bad thing per se. But when the film tackles and challenges Christianity without a sense of purpose as to why, it's no surprise that critics are calling the film overly pretentious and most audiences are hating it; audiences didn't know what they were getting themselves into.
Essentially, the fundamental problem lies in Mother!'s marketing, which we can analyze by also looking at Sony's original hit, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, just like we can look at Get Out. Baby Driver didn't falsely advertise in its marketing and promised what trailers and other promotional material sold the film as. Moreover, the film was actually better than what anyone could've expected. Not only did it double down on the action it promised, it was a fun and entertaining experience with a unique musical aspect in its premise.
Mother! Also Doesn't Have A Target Audience
From watching the film it's clear that Mother! was never supposed to be perceived as a horror film, but the studio needed to get butts into seats. With a September release close to Warner Bros.'s It and this film's unprecedented success, Mother! took the risk in trying to reach the horror enthusiasts, which is undoubtedly a great marketing mentality. The problem is that Mother! is nowhere close to being what the trailers promised it to be, a die-hard horror film, and clearly the film doesn't even know who it's trying to ultimately reach. Mother! is basically a film without a target audience.
Not surprisingly, Mother! was not the only film this year to suffer due to bad advertising and no target audience. A24's It Comes At Night was another film, that though a fantastic film, was marketed as a die-hard horror movie while in reality it was very much a mystery thriller with strong themes similar to Mother!.
While it's easy to say to just market your film as what it is, in reality it's not as easy as it sounds. While studios like Paramount and A24 support original filmmaking, they run the risk of losing huge chunks of the general audience if said original films are not familiar (e.g. being genre specific) to said audience.
In all sincerity to Paramount though, there was really no other way of marketing this film to mainstream audiences without giving too much away and of course, not all movies need a target audience. The rules can be broken. Consider the recent comments made by Mother! director Darren Aronofsky: "No matter how much you read about [Mother!], nothing will spoil you for the experience." And I concur, to some degree.
So, there was definitely a way to truthfully market Mother!, like packaging the film as a mystery thriller instead of a horror film, or presenting it as a film that tackles a multitude of genres, as Aronosfky described it:
[Mother!] starts off as one type of movie and then you think you're in that type of movie, and then it shifts and it becomes another type of movie, and then it shifts and becomes another type of movie.
These Factors Equal A Failed Original In Mother!
I'm saddened to see all the backlash Mother! is getting because it truly is an amazing film. The film has an F grade on CinemaScore and currently has a 43 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ultimately, bad marketing and word of mouth killed Mother!. The film didn't bomb because it was a bad movie, it did so because it didn't connect with audiences due to its strong thematic elements while also being packaged as a horror movie. Mother! does indeed have very strong thematic elements, but it is definitely not a horror film.
Did you enjoy Mother!? Let me know in the comments below.