Release Date: January 18, 2013
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
Runtime: 100 min
Tagline: A mother’s love is forever
In this modern age, it is very difficult for horror films to be original. There is so little ground that has not already been stepped on. This is exactly one of the biggest problems of Mama, a film that has a great backstory, but it’s a story that reminds me of The Woman in Black and it copies scares from many other features.
One day, a father goes insane, kills his wife because she is going to leave him, and he takes his two young daughters with him and they hit the road, meaning to go far away. The father, Jeffrey, is zooming too fast, and the car skids off the road and down into the forest. They find a cabin, and just when the father is about to kill the elder daughter, a mysterious being comes and takes him away.
It is now five years later, and the girls have not been found. The uncle of the two young girls, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), hasn’t given up hope of finding them. With the support of his girlfriend, Annabel (portrayed by Jessica Chastian, who is sporting a short jet black wig and rocker tattoos), he has been paying investigators to look for them for those five years. When the investigators finally find them, they are in odd states. They crawl to get around, they’re dirty, and they claim to have been taken care of by something they called “Mama”. When Lucas and Annabel take in Victoria, 8, and Lily, 6, Mama isn’t very fond of her girls being taken away from her.
The back story established in Mama is a good one: a institutionalized woman steals back her baby in the late 1800’s, but she dies and her baby doesn’t. Soon, her ghost searches everywhere for the baby, only to find Victoria and Lily instead.
The only reason this feels reminiscent of The Woman in Black is the back story, the spirit in that film also wants to rest with their son, but in the meantime kills the townsfolk. It’s not extremely similar, but I still thought of it during. The film’s main scares are from better horror films, so there isn’t much content one hasn’t seen. There are also many convenient things that happen in the film: the uncle gets put into a coma rather early on in the film, leaving Annabel take care of the little eerie tykes so he doesn’t lose custody. Whilst the film does a few things wrong, it does a lot of things right.
We may have seen the scares before, but it doesn’t stop the film from being effective and spooky. Many of the scares also do linger on the mind after watching the feature, which is an effective thing that horror flicks aspire to possess. It’s an atmosphere that doesn’t give its audience many senses of security. Mama is often popping up every which way, and the feature can really get the heart racing. Mama starts off on a strong note, keeps going strong, and the third act is the weakest of them all because of a characters’ stupid decision not to tell anyone where they were going.
Until it loses its pacing balance during the final act, it’s a chilling experience each time the sun goes out. It is even quite scary during the day, because apparently spirits never sleep. The bond between the two sisters is generally strong throughout the feature, but there is room for improvement. Lily, the youngest, is still very dependent on Mama, while Victoria is getting closer to Annabel and Mama’s malevolent tendencies are becoming more visible. Lily seems as if she’s too afraid to be abandoned again, as is Victoria in a way. Mama doesn’t want to be abandoned either, rousing malevolent jealousy. Annabel is depicted as a character not open to having kids in the beginning because of her excitement to a failed pregnancy, but she does open up to the girls as the film goes along. This is much to Mama’s dismay, as she is suffering from a disease called JBS (Jealous Bitch Syndrome). You really don’t want to screw with this mother. All of this duelling of jealousy leads to the unbalanced third act, but it also leads up to a surprisingly emotionally stirring ending.
The performances in the feature aren’t top-tier, as this is still a horror movie. Each performer does express the usual fear and anxiety, topped on with more screaming. It was a great decision by the casting director to cast such a big star as Jessica Chastain. However, for Chastain, this is a career low-point for her. Even though this doesn’t say a lot because this is still a great feature. At least her character didn’t commit too many horror flick clichés. Chastain does prove she really can rock any look.
In a nutshell: Mama has a great backstory, but it doesn’t strive on originality. With great pacing until the final act, Mama makes for a thoroughly scary experience with hardly any room for a feeling of safety. And if there is, don’t fall for it. The concepts of abandonment and jealousy are cool to bring into horror flicks. Mama is a solid antagonist who won’t allow me to look at moths and butterflies the same again*.
*The moths and butterflies would show up whenever she is near.
Did you know? This isn’t extremely interesting, but; this was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario and a studio in Toronto, both a little more than a five-hour drive from where I live.