After 5 years living in the woods alone, sisters Victoria and Lilly are found and sent to live with their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) . . .but were they really alone all that time?
Mama is a horror film that was a little bit shocking to me. Not because of the terror, but because of the quality of the acting and the ideas explored within the film. While the film never really takes the ideas presented and runs a marathon with them, they do a decidedly decent job. What happens when children are left to fend for themselves in the forest? Well, clearly, they will be taken care of by a ghost! They also become the feral children you hear about every now and then. Instead of being raised by apes like Tarzan, or by wolves, they are raised for five years by a ghost.
In 2008, at the start of the financial collapse, Jeffery kills a couple people at work then kills his estranged wife. He takes his two young daughters and flees. When he crashes his car on a snowy mountain road, the three of them find an abandoned cabin. As he musters his courage to murder his children, he is grabbed by something and never seen again. Five years later, Jeffery’s twin brother Lucas is still searching for the girls. And the men he hires finds them in the abandoned cabin, alive but feral. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) get custody of the children. What they get are two children who have been raised by a ghost in the woods. While Victoria, the oldest of the two children, begins to acclimate to her surroundings and new life, Lilly is more concerned with being with the only mother she ever knew.
As a horror film, Mama kind of falls flat. It is not particularly terrifying, in a horror film sense. It is a completely serviceable ghost story, though, that does provide a lot of chills with a minimum of jump scares. Sure, they do bust out a couple of them, but the director (first time director Andres Muschietti) relies more on mood and tension than gore or jumps. As Virginia and Lilly look at the walls, you can see they are distracted and you know that they are seeing something you are not. As they whisper mama quietly, in their childhood innocent voices, you can feel the dread creep up your spine.
As a ghost story, they film is serviceable. It does have it’s share of problems, though. First off, it feels really long for the story they are trying to tell. I found myself getting a little bit bored at times. I understand they were attempting to build character and the relationship dynamics between Annabel and the girls. To me, it just didn’t work. I never bought the sudden shift in character for Annabel. She didn’t want the girls and only stuck around for Lucas. She was actually quite a douche in the beginning. As the film progressed she just totally flipped and became super-protecto-mom. I had a hard time seeing that actually happening.
While we do get some back story for the mama character, in an attempt to make her a more sympathetic character, she was a loon. That makes it hard to sympathize with her. Near the end of the film, that is what they attempt. To make her a sympathetic character and less of the ‘bad guy’ of the film. While they manage to create a little bit of audience understanding, they fail to make her completely sympathetic because she is killing people. And she’s not killing just to protect the children. She kills because she is jealous. Or just loony tunes.
On the whole, Mama is a decent enough ghost story with a few problems. I would recommend it, but just barely. The change in character for Annabel and the attempt to make mama sympathetic are two of the big problems I had with the film. The creepy atmosphere and strong acting across the board save the film.
If you are looking for a creepy little ghost story to warm yourself with in this frigid month of January, you could do a lot worse than Mama. Just be prepared . . . . . . .it feels like a long movie . . . .
**1/2 out of ****
- Guillermo del Toro introduces Mama short film (bizzammovienews.com)