Love makes us do some crazy things.
Wait, let me rephrase that.
Actual craziness makes us do crazy things, but when love is added to the equation, craziness morphs into a toxic venom that becomes an inescapable nightmare. Without love in the picture, we’re able to think rationally and act with swift intelligence, but when you love someone, you strive to find alternative answers to the obvious actions that would spell an end to any relationship. It’s human nature. Think back to any shitty relationship you’ve found yourself in, and remember the laundry list of excuses you came up with in your starry-eyed, smitten state. Hindsight, am I right or what?
Those feelings only begin to describe the horror that emerges from Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts, a familial thriller based on Marco Franzoso’s jarring novel. Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher play a loving couple (Jude and Mina) who, after spending countless days ogling each other while being caught in a blissful hypnosis, find themselves in a ideological fight over how their child should be raised. Mina, a vegetarian, believes only in purity, and refuses to subject her son to processed foods and modern medicine, even though Jude proves that her “clean” methods could be putting their son’s life at risk. The once loving vibe between Jude and Mina quickly turns into hate and mistrust, as both parents sneak around and find different ways to undermine the other’s progress. Parenthood shouldn’t be a war, but that’s the stealthy battle that Jude and Mina find themselves fighting every day.
What makes Hungry Hearts such a drearily gut-wrenching watch is the utter simplicity of Jude and Mina’s situation, as Costanzo dismantles young love with a Jekyll and Hyde twist. The couple in question spend a large portion of the first half of the film in a honeymoon period, after meeting in a Chinese restaurant bathroom of all places, yet life’s unpredictability crushes what appeared to be an iron-clad love. Franzoso’s story opens like any romantic comedy might, and meanders along like a bubbly relationship piece, but the fragility of life quickly reminds us that darkness can be lurking even in the brightest places. Costanzo’s calculated buildup instills enough confidence in the blossoming relationship on hand, which permits the utter destruction of Cupid’s work to pack the emotional wallop of a Mike Tyson haymaker.
Jude and Mina’s opposing lifestyles are weighty enough to grab any viewer’s attention, because their dilemma is a wholly understandable one (in theory, not practice). Mina has every right to raise her son exactly how she wants, and if that’s by trusting only oils, home-grown veggies, and a strong reliance on our body’s immune system, so be it. Likewise, Jude has every right to protect his son by ensuring he’s receiving the right nutrients so he can grow properly and live a healthy life. But the transformation that takes place during the constant battle between Jude and Mina is wicked and transfixing, as true love becomes twisted into a loathsome hatred brought upon by their child’s well-being. When you take something beautiful, and add even more beauty to it, chaos should not be the result, yet the thrilling evolution of this couple’s clashing views can’t be ignored as a second possible outcome. And to think, some might say Mina used the pregnancy to remain in New York City, safely wrapped in Jude’s arms.
But Driver and Rohrwacher embrace the sorrow of Hungry Hearts, and their heartbreak is infectious. Without any sympathetic connection to a terrified father and a loving mother, forced outbursts of aggression would seem uncalled for, but Driver’s unsettling hopelessness becomes a catalyst for the film’s most breathtaking moments. Rohrwacher’s obsessive ignorance is an enigma in her own right, but it’s much easier to connect with Driver since he stands as the more rational mind. It’s easy to chronicle Jude’s gradual release of Mina, and Driver’s own emotional investment in the character shines through with each teary-eyed breakdown. There’s so much sadness filling Jude, a man who fights tremendously for a return to normalcy, and Driver’s subtle stripping of sanity becomes the film’s shining achievement.
Hungry Hearts is a different kind of horror movie, but one that provides a more chilling conclusion than half of the ghost stories you’ll sit through this year. The drama between Jude and Mina is real, the stakes are tremendously high, and there’s no real “villain” in the picture. Humans are entitled to opinions, but only when they’re responsible, safe, and coherent (or so we hope). Costanzo traverses muddied waters in order to find the darkest material, from an attack on the family system to today’s anti-vaccination culture (to a degree), and he makes a better film for not shying away from the story’s most brutal moments. This could have been typical Lifetime channel fodder, but Costanzo instead spins a heartbreaking relationship drama that’s worthy of an exasperating watch. There’s nothing worse than a child’s life being decided for him – now THAT’S horror.
Hungry Hearts is one of the most unconventional horror films I've ever seen, proving that there's nothing scarier than the human mind.