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'Mother Tongue' is Not a Good Film, it is a Great Film, and I'll Show You Why...

Updated: May 28

When biology and the system fail them in their dream of motherhood, childless couple Alexandra and Jade turn to the dark arts to craft a most unique solution.


A woman on a bed reads a book on witchcraft as another woman behind her looks out a window
Chiara Gizzi (left) plays baby-obsessed 'Alex' opposite screenwriter, Amelia Foxton's 'Jade'

Mother Tongue is the spawn of Central Coast creative duo, writer and actress, Amelia Foxton and director, Glenn Fraser. The film follows besotted woman-on-woman couple, Jade and Alexandra, who are possessed by baby-fever. Beset by both biological and systemic blocks to a natural birth, they resort to the dark arts to conjure a child. Desperate for a taste of parenthood, they harness the help of sorcerer ‘Brian’, who promises to deliver them a fully-formed little one in the shape of a homunculus. Needless to say, their Faustian bargain descends into darkness, ending in a riotously hematic frenzy of lunacy and femicide.


Two women covered in blood perform a funny scene in a horror film
Foxton and Gizzi hold nothing back in the devilishly funny, 'Mother Tongue'

Starring Foxton as ‘Jade’ and gifted comedic actress, Chiara Gizzi, as her infant-obsessed lover, ‘Alex’, the film features an hilarious star turn from The Hobbit’s ‘Bombur’, Stephen Hunter, as the bumbling baby sorcerer, ‘Brian’. At times laugh-out-loud funny and an absolute riot to watch, the comedy horror conjured a Best Director win for Fraser at the 2023 A Night of Horror International Film Festival. Yet the rollicking good time this 35-minute short feature shows its audiences shrouds a bevy of good bones that elevate Mother Tongue from a good film to a great film. Follow, if you dare, into the lair of the auteur and you will see why the devilish duo of Foxton and Fraser are fiendishly clever filmmakers.


If forming an homunculus requires an alchemical potion of demonic dark arts, so too does the magic of birthing a matchless movie. Like the illusionist who hides their wizardry by sleight of hand, the cunning filmmaker disguises their dark machinations behind deceptively simple dressings. Making a cinematic masterwork requires a concoction of insurrectional writing, anarchic directing, avant-garde editing, and an intoxicating score, all brewed in a cauldron overflowing with mutinously mesmerising performances. To elevate a film from good to great the auteur must transcend what has come before. The great filmmaker can never deliver the same dish that has already been served, they must take risks. Just as their homunculus pushed against the sealed cucurbit in which it was encased, so too Foxton and Fraser push the filmic envelope.


The Hobbit's Stephen Hunter puts in a riotously funny performance as 'Brian', the bumbling sorcerer

Every part of the potion that is Mother Tongue, serves at the feet of the diabolically clever screenplay, which we will savour last in this cinematic feast. The directing is unparallelled and the editing, inspired. The opening sequence where knives and sperm-filled test tubes interplay with pregnancy test sticks in a conspiracy of phallic shapes is so delicious to watch, the viewer may fail to notice the critique of a reproductive system that sidelines non-heteronormative couples. Likewise, the incisive whip-pan setup showing the systemic shut-out the queer would-be mothers experience when exploring alternative paths to motherhood is executed so engagingly as to disguise the fact that the privilege of parenthood still skews squarely in the direction of the male-female unit.


Chiara Gizzi is a consumate comic in 'Mother Tongue'

The acting in Mother Tongue is flawless. Gizzi is gifted with a naturally comedic face against which Foxton plays the perfect (not straight) ‘straight’ person, shouldering the bulk of the dramatic arc with ease. Hunter as ‘Brian’ is an absolute gem, in an endearing performance that is the perfect combination of physical comedy and character nuance. The production values of the film are Herculean. Every element of the film, from the cinematography to the sound design and original score does not disappoint. The special effects are innovatively and expertly rendered until perhaps right at the end when we see the not quite convincingly terrifying ‘infant terrible’ homunculus. Yet, given the resolutely indie roots of this Central Coast production team, this is thoroughly forgivable.


For an indie gig, the special effects in 'Mother Tongue' are stellar

It is in the screenplay, however, that this tale takes on Promethean proportions. As we descend into the hell of impending parenthood with our queer protagonists, we soon realise that Mother Tongue is a horror comedy that is more divine than mundane. The childless pair are on a quest no less epic than anything Homer or King Arthur embarked upon. Likewise, the ‘be careful what you wish for, you may just get it’ consequences of their dark path recall the classic morality tales of old. To be sure, the girls get what they want but they turn on each other to get it, and the film ends with a wickedly funny allegory of the blood-sucking sacrifice of parenting.


The denouement of 'Mother Tongue' features a wickedly funny critique of parenthood

This is how Mother Tongue becomes far more than the simple comedy horror it pretends to be. In the vein of Margaret Atwood, screenwriter Foxton weaves a classic morality tale told in the mythic structure which draws upon the genre of horror. Likewise, in the fashion of Voltaire, she uses comedy as a critique of toxic societal norms, as seen today in the work of Yorgos Lanthimos. It is this potent brew of complex thematic concerns and clever genre play, that lifts Mother Tongue from the primordial soup of the mundane to become a divinely ‘elevated’ horror.


Screenwriter, Amelia Foxton, shows off her range in 'Mother Tongue'

Why is all this ‘genre-defiance’ so desirable, you ask? It is because screenwriters are the arch manipulators. They toy with you. They use horror conventions to strike at your base emotions and primal fears and comedy to disarm you and subtly castigate society while they’re at it. They use mythic story structures to engage you in the narrative and root for their protagonists and morality tales to tease out the ethos of the story for you to ponder and debate when you leave the theatre. So, the question is, when it comes to the dark arts who is the true conjurer here, ‘Brian’, or the fiendishly clever literary brain behind him, Amelia Foxton?

 

RATING

★★★★✩

 

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