Mama (2013)

MamaLeft to grow up alone in an isolated woodland cabin, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are eventually discovered by a rescue party sponsored by their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). To prevent the girls’ maternal great-aunt Jean from winning custody and relocating the girls to the other side of the country, he and punk-rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) strike a deal with psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) that will give them a larger house in which to raise the girls, in exchange for scientific access to the children. Of particular interest to Dreyfuss is Mama, a construct that has acted as mother-figure during their ordeal in the wilderness.

“Guillermo del Toro presents…”, assures the promotional material for first-time feature director Andres Muschietti. As with The Orphanage before it, this is no baseless marketing strategy but rather an indication that this is going to be much more than a simple ghost story — in the vein of del Toro’s own work in the genre. Whereas both The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage dealt with phantom children, however, Mama — as the title suggests — approaches the mother-daughter relationship from the opposite direction.

While Mama does combine jump scares and suspense to occasionally atmospheric effect, then, it is never satisfied to simply chill. This duality is presumably what drew Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain to the role of Annabel, as she is able to get her teeth into one of mainstream American horror’s most compelling and complex scream-queens since The Ring‘s Rachel or Orphan‘s Kate. It’s a captivating performance (not least for the lengths to which the make-up artists have gone to hide her real identity), and one which — along with the subtext — helps to elevate the film.

The real stars of Mama, perhaps counter-intuitively, are its two child actors, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. Their performances go far beyond the genre’s tradition for creepy kids, particularly upon their reintroduction as feral children. Aided by subtle CGI flourishes, the girls scurry around the woodland shack and perfectly channel the primal behaviours of children left in the wilderness with nothing but a ghost for company and cherries for sustenance. Even without the special effects, they are both still incredibly unsettling.

While certain elements may work beautifully, there is still a lot of Mama that doesn’t quite hold together. This is largely the fault of the script, which was co-written by Neil Cross, director Andres Muschietti and sister Barbara. Based on a short film of the same name, the concept unfortunately doesn’t quite stretch to feature length. Opening with a series of murders that are never explained, the film then makes the mistake of introducing its antagonist before the end of the prologue, undermining several of the scares with unconvincing CGI and reduced expectations. From here, the filmmakers juggle plot-holes, pointless scenes and extraneous characters to sometimes infuriating effect.

As much a Mother’s Day movie as it is a ghost story, Mama is also as cliched as it is unconventional, with the script falling at the same hurdles that have claimed many such movies beforehand.  Whatever the script’s weaknesses, however, there is enough going on it Mama to make it an overall success.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to Mama (2013)

  1. Pingback: February 2013 – Snitches end up in ditches! | popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: March 2013 – Drive it like you stole it! | popcornaddict

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