Mama (2013) Review
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 1hr 40mins
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse
Producer: Guillermo Del Toro
Plot: A homicidal father abducts his two daughters before crashing his car into the woods. After he is mysteriously murdered, the girls are forced to fend for themselves in a remote cabin in the woods. 5 years later, they return to civility to live with their uncle. They are not alone.
Backed by the masterful Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Mama’ is the feature length dilatation of the 3 minute short produced in 2008 by Argentinean siblings Barbara and Andy Muschietti. The brief tale revolved around two sisters haunted by a malevolent entity, the twisted bloodcurdling figure referred to only as ‘mama’ was horrifying enough to make the Pans Labyrinth creator sit up and take note. Declared as ‘one of the scariest little scenes I have ever seen’ by Del Toro himself, Andy Muschietti was handed the overarching reign on directing the Universal-backed picture.
Given that I am a Del Toro fanatic, it is incredibly hard not to radiate towards Mama and be afflicted by its horror. Having read several reviews comparing Mama to other infant centric films such as Insidious and The Possession I have to say I completely disagree. Of course, feral sisters Victoria and Lily (both played expertly by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) are the heart of the story, there is a far deeper meaning to the film.
Firstly, the melancholic spectre like figure Mama is expertly crafted and certainly drew sympathy from despite her crooked, demon like appearance. The girls are protected not tortured by her ethereal presence. However disturbing, without Mama the girls would have perished. Mama’s isolated violent instances occur when an outsider attempt to care/interfere with her ownership of them. The tragic nature of the story for me is the fact that Mama cannot let go. Look out for the dream sequences shot in black and white which are my favourite scenes and have stayed with me long after the credits.
Mama is adamant to remain the girls’ maternal guardian (after all it is the only carer they have had for 5 years in the wilderness) despite the best efforts of Annabelle (Chastain) to rid the children of her presence. This conflict culminates in a mesmerising moonlit finale which is worth the price of admission in itself.
There is no question that Jessica Chastain raises the level of the film. In an unfamiliar rocker-chick role, Chastain is excellent as the reluctant mother figure. When circumstances dictate, she becomes the guardian of the children. Chastain plays Annabelle with craft and guile. On one hand, the victim of numerous nerve jangling encounters with Mama and the other detective- come- protector. The way in which she warms to the children over time is expertly depicted, clearly visible in the most touching scene in the film where she embraces the confused Lily.
In essence, this is a painful meditation of losing a child and ultimately how a mother’s love is the most powerful human emotion. This is the thread which ties the film together and for me is its legacy.
There are flaws however which prevent this from reaching the heights of the Devils Backbone and co. The clichéd shock tactics throughout the film are a little predictable. At times, it feels like a series of shorts melded together rather than a free flowing narrative. The CGI use for Mama could have been more subtle. There are question marks around plot points and character actions (e.g. psychiatrist searching for a haunted cabin alone without protection?)
In the grand scheme of things, however, these feel like minor details which fail to detract from the overall grandeur of Del Toro and Muschietti’s work. I am excited to see how Muschietti’s career develops. One thing is for certain, I will be watching.