Mama is a Mother of a Movie
I went into Mama with high expectations. I’ve always been a fan of pretty much anything that Guillermo Del Toro’s name has been attached to, and did not think Mama would be any different. And it lived up to the quality guarantee that Del Toro set way back with The Orphanage. Mama is obviously scary at times, but it also has those emotional moments that most horror films lack.
The premise of Mama is about two girls who get abandoned in the woods after their father leaves them in a cabin there. Right off the bat, we discover that the girls didn’t get left alone, as there’s an entity of some sort living there with them. Five years later, the girls are found, and as these stories go, the entity moves into their new home with them.
Mama is one of those movies that starts out dark and terrifying. The two little girls, at first, are about as creepy as raised-in-the-woods-by-a-monster children can be, but as the movie progresses, they – along with the entity that accompanies them – start becoming more recognizable as human. And that’s where the beauty of Mama lies – in learning about the entity and why she has become the thing that she is. She’s still scary, but by the end of the film, you feel empathy for her, too.
There are also some very unique and original elements in the making of Mama as well. For example, the use of what seems to be old film footage to show scenes set in the past are used in a way I had not seen before. It helps set the tone between the past and the present and when the past melds back into the present, the effect used is something I’d never seen before. It’s hard to describe (especially since I don’t have a film degree), but it’s very cool. And considering the present obsession with the same old tired tricks in horror films today, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Mama also boasts a pretty talented cast. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, as most of us know him from Game of Thrones) portrays the uncle, Lucas, that is now taking care of the girls (he also plays the girls’ father). He is convincing as an artist (and possibly a little bit of a slacker) who wants nothing more than to do right by his brother’s daughters.
Jessica Chastain, one of Hollywood’s new “it” girls, is brilliant as Lucas girlfriend. Her role is much more pivotal as she becomes a new mother figure for the girl, which means she is forced to suffer the wrath of the monster. What I loved about her character is that she’s still as rough around the edges (she’s in a rock band, for example), up until the end of the film. She stays true to the character. There’s no major “I need to grow up and be responsible now” moment (I hate those anyway). She does realize that she loves the girls, but she’s still true to herself.
Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse portray the two children believably. And if that’s them doing the creepy wild animal-like crawling on all fours at the beginning of the film, major kudos (that has to be CGI, right?). They go from being scary creatures themselves to fully realized human beings.
Mama is not a gore-fest or a jump-out-at-you scarefest. It is not a found footage film. It is one of those wonderful stories that just happens to be creepy during its telling. But it becomes even more than that and there’s probably a good chance you’ll need tissues before you exit the theater.