Movie Review: Mama


Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Jane Moffat

Rated R for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements, Running time 100 minutes, Horror/Thriller/Suspense

Compare to: The Orphanage (2007), The Woman in Black (2012)

When you think of PG-13 Horror, good thoughts and decent acting don’t normally come to mind.  Mama falls into many of the same pitfalls that PG-13 Horror does, yet averts them in the majority of cases.

Creepy, unsettling, well balanced; Mama is surprisingly, about as good as I was hoping it would be.

After five long years of searching, Lucas finally finds his two nieces who were long thought to be dead. Emaciated, living in a cabin out in the middle of the woods, the two girls have not only survived but have created an imaginary mother in their heads to cope with their bizarre situation. But after gaining custody of the children, Lucas’ reluctantly supportive girlfriend begins to feel that the girls’ strange behavior and loyalty to their “mother” might not only be in their imagination.

Based on the 2008 Spanish short film of the same name, Mama goes for the creepy and unsettling rather than jump-out-of-the-corner-and-scare-you. How often have you been utterly disappointed after the main character walks around a house, tension building, only to have a cat jump out from around the corner, rawring loudly for now reason and putting our fears to rest with a good ol’ fake scare? Oh, Fluffy. It’s only you! There’s none of that here. In Mama, there’s strange noises heard through the vents and weird images out of focus in the background. They disappear just before we get what would be a good look at what’s going on, but there are no pulled punches, everything that was seen and heard was there in this movie. It’s a nice change.

Jessica Chastain leading the cast should instill some confidence in the film as well. She’s got a great track record thus far and for good reason. An interesting contradiction of having a crotchety aunt with the children’s best interests in mind wanting to take custody of them versus Annabel (Chastain’s character) who only has them for her boyfriend and doesn’t want them in the first place. A main character who doesn’t care about the two kids at the focal point allows for a great growth to occur between characters. A change that “Mama” doesn’t approve of.

By far one of the creepier apparitions to appear on film in recent history, Mama is a sort of amalgamation of rotting wood and moths. Sort of like an attic come to life. Even her groaning noises are somewhat reminiscent of a creaking door. Her general way of floating out from the rotten spot in a closet is something that’s sure to keep the teenagers who have seen it up at night, much less the adults. Interestingly enough, Jane Moffat, who plays the kid’s stuck up aunt trying to gain custody of the kids is also the voice of Mama herself. So either way, she’s getting those kids.

The problems encountered here are the same problems every PG-13 Horror movie falls into. When you see certain characters more than once, you can guess their fate in a film like this and you’re usually right. There’s also the research scenes you just won’t be able to get away from where a character goes in search of certain information about their antagonist, resulting in long searches through library archives and whatnot. These scenes feel a little stale, but detrimental to the plot. It feels in a way like other films have lessened the impact of some of the things Mama does while Mama actually deserves those scenes and many that came before it were just lazy.

Many may find the ending unsatisfying or uncharacteristic of the rest of the film but I welcome something a little more different than your average “Damn the plot, we need one last scare!” If you want to be creeped out, give this one a look.

Grade: B-


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