Movie Review: Mama – A Creepy Ghost, Disturbing Children, and An Equally Disturbing Finale

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Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they? (synopsis from IMDB)

It looks like Mama has jumped out of the gates and taken the lead among films this weekend. Mama, produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister of Game of Thrones fame), came in at number one in the box office, grossing an estimated $28.1 million for the 3-day weekend, with $11 million coming in on Friday. It looks like horror fans were intrigued by the trailers and commercials and were curious/intrigued enough to go to see the film in theaters. The question remains: “Is it a good movie?”

And I would have to answer by saying it absolutely is.

 A few years ago, Andy and Barbara Muschietti made a short horror film that was basically 3 minutes of two kids being chased through a house by a creature. Guillermo del Toro was interested enough in the premise that he encouraged the brother/sister team into expanding the short film into a feature length movie. Right here is one of the great points of this film: it isn’t a remake. This was an original concept that did not fall into the usual traps that have been making many of today’s horror films dive into blandness.

[SPOILERS] The movie starts out with a shot of an abandoned car parked in front of a large, expensive looking house. The driver of the car (Coster-Waldau) has arrived home to rush his two young daughters out of the house and into the car. We hear bits and pieces on the radio of the killing of a couple of people at an office building. With the father’s reactions to the news, plus his erratic driving on ice covered roads, we could infer that he is the gunman who killed a woman and a man and injured another. The man wrecks his car and guides his two daughters through the woods, stumbling upon an abandoned cabin. At this point, the supernatural and horror start to come into play.

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The gunman’s twin brother (also played by Coster-Waldau) has instigated a hunt for his brother and nieces. His crew locates the girls living alone in the cabin, the two of them basically reverted back to an animal state. After a brief stint in a ward, the Uncle and his rock band girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) take the girls into their home and try to re-introduce the children back into the civilized world. Unfortunately, something has traveled back with the girls, something that they refer to as “Mama”.

Let’s start with the beginning of the film. I loved how the film began. There was amazing attention to plot detail and character development. Creating scenes that make you feel for characters is one of the most missed details in today’s films, yet this movie did an amazing job. I felt so much for the children and how they must have felt with their abandonment. Even with the uncle and his girlfriend, you could imagine how they were feeling and how all of the changes were affecting them.

Now, in the first 30 minutes of Mama, I did have some concerns. There did seem to be a dependence on scares that were forecast so directly that most people in the audience knew exactly what was going to happen.  I have watched many movies last year that had the same problem and I was worried that this movie was going to follow down the same disappointing path. Luckily, things started to change after this initial half hour.

One of the best, creepiest things about the movie was big, bad Mama herself and the creepy ass way she would move. This creature was brought to life by the same creature performer who did the [REC], Javier Botet. The creature was enhanced with CG that was very effective. The creature’s bent body movement and scuttling motions created a very creepy, unnerving vibe to the film. I loved it. While the whole haunting story and creature herself were very reminiscent of The Grudge and The RingMama had a different feel to it and a new direction not dependent on Japanese source material.

It was also unnerving watching the youngest of the daughters move around, crawling on all fours and eating moths. The elder daughter retained enough knowledge of life before to slowly begin her adjustment back to “normal” life, but the youngest daughter didn’t even have a rudimentary vocabulary. She was about as close to being a return to the wild child as we could ever get. While she was a disturbing character, she also added a welcome sense of humor to the movie, often pulling laughs from the audience or even gasps.

Mama (3)-thumb-630xauto-36212Chastain and Coster-Waldau were amazing additions to the film. Chastain really does well pulling off the whole rock girl with a heart of gold. She is quite convincing in her reactions to the girls and her horror filled reactions to Mama. Her character was placed into a role as the singular caregiver to the two girls after her boyfriend suffers from a Mama-induced injury. It is completely believable and sincere when she starts to overcome the girl’s emotional distance and how the girls react back at her.

Coster-Waldau also shows off his acting chops by playing both roles of the twin brothers. His dedication to finding the girls and then protecting them from their family and from all things is quite touching and believable.

As to the ending of the movie, I think there will be mixed reactions. I know that I was starting to have some concerns at the end, which seemed to be following the path of so many recent ghost movies, but then it took a surprise ending that included a plot detail that I would never have expected.

So, how did this film rate on the Lytherus scale? I took a poll of the 3 friends I went to the theater with to watch this movie. I already had my score in mind. Oddly enough, we all came up with the same score. We all rated Mama as a 7 out of 10. It’s an excellent horror movie with plenty of scares, tension, and odd touches of humor. I’d recommend it to all of the horror fans out there or to those who are looking for something different.

If you did see this movie, what did you think? What worked for you and what didn’t? Please leave comments in the Comments section below!

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