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Mother’s Instinct review: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain can't save this slight tale of suburban darkness

 (PR handout Alyssa Longchamp/Alyssa Longchamp)
(PR handout Alyssa Longchamp/Alyssa Longchamp)

“They’ll bury him in a hole and we won’t see him again?” says doe-eyed child Theo (Eamon Patrick O’Connell). Theo’s parents are asking him if he understands what the neighbours’ son dying in a tragic accident means.

Soon, he will be at the open casket funeral, causing a scene when he looks down and sees one of his toys adorning the body. As it transpires, however, it is the parents who are most driven to madness.We are in prettily-rendered 1960s suburbia. Anne Hathaway is Celine, the mother of the dead child, Max, while next door lives Jessica Chastain’s Alice (they both have husbands who are largely superfluous breadwinners).

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the once-close friends struggle to cope: Alice starting to believe that Celine is out to off her son, and then her grandmother. Things get frosty, then violent, then unhinged.It is of course pleasurable to watch Chastain and Hathaway trying to out-psych each other, but the plotting here is slight to say the least.

Again and again, Alice darts out of her house desperately screaming “THEO! THEO!” only to find her son is fine. Celine’s evil schemes – or Alice’s delusions – all start to get a bit silly. The tension, aided by layers of spooky BBC drama strings, never really builds.In truth, while films that clock in at 90 minutes are always to be applauded, this is the kind of story that, these days, would be better suited to a six part TV series, so we could delve deeper into the backstories of the characters.

Inevitably we do find out that there is historical darkness behind the suburban curtains here, but it feels dashed off and under-explored.That said, it worked just fine in French. The film Duelles from 2018 (itself adapted from 2012 Belgian novel Derriere La Haine (Behind The Hatred) by Barbara Abel was great. Perhaps it is just that this American remake is too… American?

In cinemas

94 minutes, cert 15