It is surprising, and reassuring, that a film like mother! got made and will be released widely. It’s not every day that a major studio, Paramount, releases a two-hour allegorical tale featuring the world’s biggest movie star.

The feverish film, which had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is like a big-budget, theater-of-the-absurd head trip, though the early word said it was an homage to Roman Polanski’s 1968 psychological thriller Rosemary’s Baby. There are some tenuous connections, but it’s actually closer to the pessimistic outlook of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit.

True, in both movies someone has apparently sold his soul to a darker power, but the similarities are otherwise elusive, as Polanski and mother! director Darren Aronofsky have different temperaments. Polanski goes for elegant composition; Aronofsky prefers the nervously shaking, invasive hand-held camera. Perhaps no other director has recently bestowed as many close-ups onto his lead actress as he does here.

Aronofsky has less interest in a tale of psychological horror and more in creating a hellish, Hieronymus Bosch-like canvas with his out-there take on contemporary culture, in which traditions or decorum have gone by the wayside, and in its place is an invasive groupthink mentality. Here privacy is not respected, but demolished. From its askew angle, mother! piercingly takes down the pervasive pop culture in a more indirect, but still effective, manner compared to the recent social media satire Ingrid Goes West. Or at least, that’s one interpretation.

With her ash blonde hair braided into one knot, Lawrence looks like she could be the fresh-faced niece of the subjects of Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Her character, referred to in the credits as “mother,” lives with “Him,” a poet (a cryptic and one-note Javier Bardem), in an isolated Victorian fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and with no road in sight. She has refurbished the entire structure; it could be a showcase for Pottery Barn. (She “wanted to make it a paradise.”) Attending to his every need, she’s fulfills the supportive, pre-second wave role in her and Him’s relationship, much like Mia Farrow in 1968.

Satre’s observation that “Hell is other people” comes to fruition when Bardem’s writer brings a stranger into the home, “man (Ed Harris),” who claims to be an orthopedic surgeon, and lets him stay the night without asking mother. The infiltration begins. Arriving the next morning is the guest’s wife, “woman” (Michele Pfeiffer, who almost steals the film from Lawrence).

With drink in hand, the woman takes over the home in no time, bedding her husband in the living room, and prying into mother’s sex life. After much snooping, she realizes that mother really does love Him and offers this benediction: “God help you.” (Both Pfeiffer and Frances McDormand, also appearing in the festival in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, give great evil eye.)

More guests arrive, bringing on an onslaught of violence, destruction, and lots of blood. So much begins to happen that mother doesn’t have time to tell Him that a beating heart was clogging the toilet. The film’s two halves mirror each other, with Aronofsky ramping up the excesses in the second part, leading to a celebration-turned-rave-turned-war zone-apocalypse.

The film works best leading viewers down one rabbit hole and then into another purposely perplexing space, which becomes more off-putting than purposeful. The repetition on actions (these guests’ bad manners escalate) becomes less of a case of sensorial overload, as in Requiem for a Dream, and more of a question of whether Aronofsky can top one outrageous behavior after another. He doesn’t, mostly because he has lessened the ending’s intended blow by revealing it at the film’s beginning. He wraps up the mayhem in a bloodied bow, and so it ends on a whimper.

This is more a film to admire for its audacity in throwing everything into the proverbial kitchen sink, which in this case, literally gets destroyed, as does much of the house, as Him opens the front door to hordes of his admirers/sycophants.

Given the cryptic nature of the plot and the thinly-written role, Lawrence gives a full and detailed performance as someone who is essentially an outside, albeit bewildered, observer. Without her, the film wouldn’t be at all convincing. She gives it her all. Bardem, on the hand, seems stymied by his role, which is more of a concept than a character. As a result, she runs circles around him.

The film is an ideal selection for a festival, especially for viewers who gravitate toward seeing something with few preconceived ideas, and where flawed but ambitious films are a given and can be dissected for their merits without commercial consideration. That said, it’s hard to imagine this film not suffering a significant drop-off at theaters after its opening weekend, even with Lawrence’s star power. Its fascinations only go so far.