Mama Review

by Larry Dwyer

Fellow staffer Sean Brickley and I braved the teenage masses and their pre-pubescent shenanigans to check out an 8pm viewing of the hot new flick “Mama” this past Saturday night. When I first heard about it, the name of the film kind of made me suspicious; it really didn’t sound like it would be scary. I should have listened when my parents told me what not to do with books and their covers because someone then pointed out to me that it was based on a short from a fellow named Andrés Muschietti and they forwarded me the link to it.; sold. If you’ve never seen the short, you can view all of its creepiness on YouTube. Well, apparently Guillermo Del Toro (of “Hellboy” and Pan’s Labyrinth” fame) caught a glimpse of this 2 minute work and thought it was creepy as well because he contacted Andres about making “Mama” into a full length feature.

Did the full-length live up to the hype that the short created? Well, let’s discuss the movie a bit first. We begin by overhearing a news story from the radio of an empty car in front of a gorgeous house in an affluent neighborhood. Apparently a woman and some others have been killed on Wall Street due to some financial mess. We are then in the house with a young girl and her baby sister. We hear pounding footsteps racing up the stairs and in bursts Jaime Lannister from “Game of Thrones” (Well the guy who plays JL, anyway. I pointed this out to Sean and he confided that he’s never watched the show – shame on him). Anyway, the girls’ father rushes them to the car and is soon racing away with them and driving much too fast for the snowy conditions on a mountain road. The girls try to warn him of this several times and when he finally yells at them to shut up, he loses control of the car and they go careening over a cliff.

Miraculously, everyone seems to be unharmed as we next find them walking around the woods. Before long, they stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned cabin and dad takes them inside. Dad sits on the floor with a revolver and puts it to his head but can’t seem to pull the trigger (it’s at this point that I’ve figured out that the woman referenced on the news was mom and this guy most likely killed her). He then builds the girls a nice fire before telling the oldest to turn around. He puts the gun to the back of her head but before he can pull the trigger, something snaps his neck and drags him away. We next see the two girls sitting in front of the fire alone and a cherry rolls across the floor towards them from the shadows.

Fast forward five years and we see Jaime Lannister again but this time he’s playing the bad dead dad’s nice twin brother, Lucas. He is using the money from his dead brothers’ estate to pay a search party to find clues about his family’s whereabouts. He lives in a small apartment with a girlfriend Annabel (played by Jessica Chastain). This Misfits shirt wearing girl plays bass in a band, drinks beer from the bottle, has some tattoos and is clearly being built up as a “non-motherly” type. Well lo and behold, he gets the call that someone has found the girls and they’re alive. By alive, I mean covered in dirt, grunting and crawling around, rather quickly, on all fours in their creepy ghost-infested cabin.

Of course Uncle Louis just loves the rodents…I mean girls and wants custody of them at all costs. Annabel doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea but is willing to go with it for the sake of her love for Lucas. The state is willing to give Lucas custody over their weird aunt at the recommendation of a psychiatrist IF Lucas is willing to take a lovely home in a nice neighborhood and allow the girls to see the doctor. Well a deal is made and the fun begins. Lucas is out of the picture pretty quick (no spoliers here, kids) and Annabel is left to deal with the girls, and whatever might have followed them there, all by her lonesome.

What I can say about the movie without giving too much away is that the performances of all involved, especially the sisters (played by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) and Jessica Chastain are nothing short of extraordinary. Those little girls were creepy as hell when they needed to be and had our packed theater screaming at some fun moments. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain does a great job transforming from a girl who wants nothing to do with these kids to a protective care-giver who will stop at nothing to save them.

I’m not ashamed to say that I jumped a few times (much to Sean’s amusement). Whether it’s from fast movements or sudden sound effects, “Mama is not short on “jump” moments. It definitely rates pretty high on the creepy meter but where it does falter a bit is in plot. One never expects too much plot in a horror movie but for some reason, I did. There was a lot left unexplained in the story and there were some places that I didn’t feel the story needed to go at all. A few examples are that, to me, the aunt character was completely unnecessary to the story and there was also a subplot involving the girls’ psychiatrist which really brought nothing to the table either.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and it is one that I’d see again. I think we all like to be scared or why else would we subject ourselves to these movies? Well, “Mama” brings the scares. They did a great job of keeping Mama off of the screen for a while, which always builds nice tension, and when they did show her at first, it was out of focus and kind of off to the side; I like that…it’s scarier to me than something right in the camera.

One final note: After thinking on the movie for a few days, it got me thinking about the “Amityville Horror”, where Missy Lutz befriended the demon-pig Jodie and Regan MacNeil’s nice “friend” Captain Howdy in “The Exorcist”. There are plenty more movies with similar storylines out there. What I’m wondering is, is it just me or are kids in movies real quick to befriend demons and scary ghosts? And why do the adults always just placate the child? “Oh..isn’t that cute? Our baby has a demonic playmate”. As a father of a near two-year old, I’m keeping my eye on her; if she starts talking about some “imaginary friend who’s mad at me”, I’m out of there. I love my family and all but I’ve seen way too many of these movies to just stick around.

I kid, I kid.

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