Toma 78 and Di Milo Productions
Directed by Andres Muschietti
Reviewed by Anthony C. Francis
The majority of horror films today suffer from an utter lack of originality. Remakes rule the cinemas as new ideas are pushed to the back burner. Modern horror, with the exception a few gems, has seemingly lost its way.
Occasionally, a while a film will come along that is completely invigorating. It will rejuvenate our love for the damaged genre and bring us true terrors mixed with fine writing and the originality that eludes most of today’s horror efforts. In the early months of 2013, that film is Mama.
The film began life almost five years ago as a Spanish short film. The original idea and great craftsmanship coupled with the creepiness of the story caught the attention and admiration of Guillermo Del Toro who helped the filmmakers find financing to expand it to feature length. Together they have achieved a terrifying success.
Imbued with an atmospheric and chilling power, Mama tells the story of Annabel and Lucas, a couple who must raise Lucas’s nieces, Victoria and Lilly, after they’re found living alone in the wilderness. When the girls come to live with them, we find out that they were not alone and were raised by someone or something that they cryptically refer to as Mama. And as the film progresses, we find that Mama may still be near.
Lucas is played by Nicolaj Coster-Waldau from HBO’s Game of Thrones. He gives a solid performance and downplays nicely, trying to be the voice of reason as Annabel finds that she is not ready for children, let alone ones with baggage such as these girls carry.
Annabel is played by current Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, who I believe to be cutting a path as one of our finest actors. She plays the role in a black wig and tattoos, and with a tough exterior that slowly peels away as she begins to care for the children.
The two young actresses who play the girls are a true find. Megan Charpentier plays Victoria and Isabelle Nelisse plays the younger Lilly. The girls give evocative and sadly potent performances.
Victoria and Lilly are seen regularly by Dr. Dreyfuss, a psychologist who records their sessions and observes their every move. His conclusion, at first, is that the oldest girl is suffering from a split personality and inhabiting the role of Mama.
I am not giving anything away by stating that Mama is, in fact, real and she wants the girls all to herself. This leads to some of the most frightening sequences in horror film history.
For a good while we don’t see too much of Mama as we are teased with glimpses and sounds, but when she is finally revealed and the chills begin, hold on! Mama, the film and the character, are astoundingly terrifying.
There are great sequences experienced in this film, but unfortunately, I can only discuss a couple of them due to the fact that I would not dream of ruining the fun.
One particularly creepy and brilliantly shot sequence is a dream/transferred memory where we see a mad woman holding her newborn baby as she leaps from a cliff to both of their deaths. This is seen from the woman’s point of view as we experience it all the way down to the moment of death. It is a brilliantly original choice in filming the scene.
There is another outstanding sequence where we see a man in the cabin formally occupied by the girls when they lived in the wild. He is attempting to communicate with Mama. It is the dead of night; he has only a flashlight and a camera. The scene makes great use of the camera’s flash and turns the moment into a pure nightmare that will have you cowering in your seat. The sequence is a tribute to the flashbulb scene in Hitchcock’s Rear Window and here the director makes it all is own.
Mama is a fantastic horror film done with supreme style and care. It sets out to scare us yet it still finds the power to move us by the end.
I give great credit to the cinematically literate director Adres Muschietti and his co-writers Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti. It is difficult to navigate around the obvious clichés in horror films while bringing something fresh and original to the table. In this film they rise to the task, as we are treated to terrors that leave us with lingering and deeply frightening images. Until Mama, I hadn’t been truly frightened by a horror film in many years. These filmmakers are a welcome addition to the horror and film world entire.
Mama is one of the scariest and most original horror efforts of the last decade or more. From the chilling prologue to the tragically poetic finale it is a film that masterfully reminds us what a true horror film can be.