m a m a
22nd February 2013
11th March 2013
Oh Mama! It was so very close. For about 50 minutes I truly thought you had pulled it off and were a horror film that was actually scary and intelligent. Then you went and threw it away. Just like all the others.
Little Victoria and baby Lilly disappear into the woods the day their father goes mad and kills their mother. Five years on their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still searching for them when the trackers he has hired finally strike gold and find the girls, although what were the girls seems to have gone forever. After five years in the cabin in the woods the girls have become feral creatures, filthy and walking on all fours like animals, wild and ravaged. Lucas manages to connect with Victoria, the older of the two (now 8) and he and his rock and roll girlfriend (and reluctant surrogate mama) Annabel (Jessica Chastain) find themselves looking after the girls in a big house in the suburbs on the proviso that the psychiatrist can have access to the girls. It soon becomes clear however that happy families is not on the cards as the girls have brought something along with them from the cabin, and it doesn't want to play nicely.
Adapted from the genuinely terrifying short film of the same name by writer director Andres Muschietti and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro there is a lot to like about Mama. It starts with a bang (literally) and has your attention straight away with exciting, beautifully shot scenes that immediately seem more classy than most modern horrors. Muschietti has assembled a fantastic cast. Nikolaj Coster -Waldau playing a rare American role is excellent as both the tortured father and kindly Uncle Lucas. Now I'm all for more of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, but I'm not entirely sure why he plays both roles and it is never addressed. That's a somewhat typical frustration of this movie, more than once I wondered 'how the hell did that happen' and it's never explained. Jessica Chastain, almost unrecognisable as dark haired rock chick Annabel, is proving again that she is one of the most versatile and interesting actors around right now. Megan Charpentier (Victoria) and Isabella Nelisse (Lilly) are really quite marvellous, we must also give credit here to Muschietti's direction as what he gets out of these two little girls is simply stunning. Their physicality (coupled with some excellent CGI) makes for some of the most disturbing scenes in the movie.
As well as the horror Mama does have it's emotional moments. The scene of Lily playing with Mama particularly memorable, well executed and funny at the same time as being scary, this is no mean feat. There are also some heartbreaking moments; to my complete surprise I cried a couple of times. The scene where we see Annabel finally break through Lilly's exterior and just holds her is a real tearjerker mostly thanks to Chastain's wonderful performance.
It takes quite a long time for us to properly see the titular Mama. Electricity failure and huge black moths signify that Mama is in the house. One of the more stomach churning scenes is of little Lily sitting under a hospital bad chomping happily away on moths. That will stay with me forever, thank you Mr Muschietti! The hints and suggestions of Mama are scary stuff, when she appears for a split second behind Annabel I nearly jumped out of my skin. Also the scene where Annabel asks Victoria 'what's under the bed' is toe curlingly tense and scary. However the more we see her the more diluted the shock factor becomes until it finally stops being scary altogether.
For all of it's faults though Mama is still a huge cut above the usual horror rubbish being churned out and it's great premise and fantastic cast make it a worthwhile trip to the cinema, it just could have been a great one.