Mama (2013)

Well, I’ve said it before and I’m sure that I’ll say it again: I love me a good ghost story! Going in, I knew next to nothing about this surprising little horror gem. I DID know that Geek Movie God Guillermo del Toro was strapped in as an Executive Producer, which bodes well right off the bat, as the man certainly knows the horror genre, with titles like Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devils Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dotting his filmography. But…that’s all I knew. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, sometimes going into a flick completely cold is the most satisfying…especially when it turns out like this.
‘Mama’ opens with a suburbanite yuppie, played by The King Slayer himself Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, on the run for the shooting deaths of his wife and two co-workers. Clearly having gone off The Deep End, he absconds with his two small daughters and drives off into a snowstorm. Soon after, his slacker artist twin brother Lucas learns of the tragedy and sets about trying to do his part to locate his missing kin. 5 years later, a chance discovery of a decrepit cabin reveals that the girls somehow survived, only they are now almost completely feral…and creepy. After much therapy and physical rehab, it’s determined that the girls can live with their untried but doting uncle and his tattooed rocker of a girlfriend, Annabel (played by an impressively unrecognizable Jessica Chastain), in a hospital- subsidized house in the ‘burbs. Too bad the girls didn’t come back alone.
At a glance, the story seems like nothing ground-breaking for the genre. But a closer look reveals that some serious care and attention went into telling this particular supernatural yarn. The first thing that stood out to me was the nicely rounded performances from EVERYBODY involved.
The two little actresses playing Victoria and Lilly were definitely a notch above and brought effective performances that alternated between REALLY creepy and surprisingly sad. Performance-wise, however, Jessica Chastain stood out to me. I found her non-child liking punk chick to be, initially, a grating presence (more than likely deliberate), but as the story rolls on and the tension thickens, we clearly watch as her stony, selfish demeanor gives way to a dormant maternal instinct, coupled with horrified realization as her investigating slowly reveals the danger lurking under her own roof.
As for the ‘danger’, I have to give some props to the designers of this particular apparition. Mama is a scary bitch from hell! With her over-extended limbs, murky flowing hair and broken body, she is NOT something you want to find in a dark closet…or under a bed. Couple that with her clicking, croaking throat noises and her twitchy tendency to ‘rush’ her victims when discovered, she is a beast. Strangely though, there were moments when the director Andres Muschietti managed to succeed in making me feel…something, for the root plight of the murderous spectral wench.
And speaking of ‘feeling something’, the ending of ‘Mama’ left me with a weird taste in my mouth. It perfectly straddled the razors edge between a sense of tragic, unacceptable loss and satisfied elation. This, in my opinion, is a rare feat. When you see it, as you should, you’ll know what I mean as the climax has it’s way with you. Looking back, the way that the 3rd Act plays out was pretty ballsy of Universal Studios to ‘greenlight’…particularly where the consequences for the two little girls were concerned.
As a story, Mama undeniably borrows from many a horror movie source that came before, but at least it has the good sense to borrow them well.
All in all, ‘Mama’ was a nice, scary surprise and if this type of flick is your ‘thing’ (the type that will make your skin literally crawl at times), then I definitely recommend it. Some care and skill was put into this story…and it shows. “Mama…Mama….”

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