Directed by Andres Muschetti
Released: 22 February 2013 (UK)
Two abandoned feral young girls return to society, but have they brought something back with them…?
This is a great horror film that transcends the usual horror shock tactics—while still staying true to the rules of the genre—to deliver a deeper, more affecting film experience than might be expected by most filmgoers.
The opening 10 minutes are rather different, setting up an intriguing backstory in which a victim of the 2008 financial collapse goes postal, kidnaps his two young daughters and takes them to a cabin in the woods. There, he’s grabbed by a mysterious, aggressive ‘something’, while they then live out the next five years under the care of ‘Mama’ (a period succinctly recounted in the fab title credit sequence made up of the children’s drawings of their life of isolation).
Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays the girls’ uncle, who wins custody of the damaged children, along with his rock chick girlfriend (a very different looking Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty). It’s soon apparent that not only do the girls lack the normal socialisation for their age, but that their mysterious, supernatural benefactor-cum-tormentor has made the trip back to civilisation with them.
There are all the usual jump moments you’d expect from a film like this, but most are done with a bit more subtlety than is usual in this genre. The atmosphere and the low key effects work together to create a genuinely creepy experience, helped in great measure by the performances of the two children playing siblings Victoria and Lily, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse. Chastain shows range as the grungy, slightly Goth woman who didn’t see inheriting two little kids as part of her future, but has to accept them and their supernatural baggage. In fact, the climax effectively sidelines Coster-Waldau’s uncle figure (he also plays the brother, the errant father in the opening scenes) in a battle between the reluctant mother and the ghost would-be mother that recalls nothing less than the much more sci-fi climax of James Cameron’s Aliens.
Mama comes with the recommendation of Guillermo del Toro, who saw the original short by director Andres Muschetti and executive produced this feature version, which contains plenty of allusions to del Toro’s work as well as early David Lynch. That’ll be enough of a recommendation for some viewers, but if you like your horror chills to be a bit more subtle than the likes of Saw and Hostel type films, then Mama, although far from original, may have something worthwhile to offer.
Verdict: Unusual touches lift Mama above its routine horror movie roots. 8/10
Brian J. Robb