Sunday 5 September 2021

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

A horror ghost movie, Mama delivers traditional scares through the story of an angry spirit unwilling to let go of children in her care.

Distraught businessman Jeffrey Desange murders office colleagues and his ex-wife, then abducts his two young daughters Victoria and Lily. At an abandoned cabin deep in the woods Jeffery is about to harm the girls when a malevolent spirit intervenes. Five years later, trackers hired by Jeffrey's brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) find the two girls miraculously still alive, living in a feral state. 

With support from child psychologist Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a heavy metal band member, gain custody. The girls have difficulty readjusting to a domestic environment and make repeated references to Mama. Annabel and Lucas realize a jealous spirit has moved in with the girls, while Dreyfuss uncovers a story from the late 1800s of a mother who attempted to escape with her baby from a now-abandoned mental institution.

With Guillermo del Toro serving as executive producer, Mama is a well-mounted horror film featuring children interacting with a monster, a theme of motherhood, and a ghost appearing in all the right places: through the walls, in the closet, and at a spooky cabin. The special effects are spectral and scary, heightened by the young girls' untamed physical behaviour. The mix between thrills and plot is balanced, and the performances are above-par, with Jessica Chastain adding welcome star power.

Through the character of Annabel, director Andy Muschietti (who co-wrote the script with his sister Barbara) finds a defining arc. Annabel's first action is a sigh of relief at a negative pregnancy test, and she does not hide an initial lack of interest in anything motherly as Lucas brings his nieces into their life. Her attachment to Victoria and Lily grows slowly and underpins the evolving dynamic, with Mama assessing her ability to maintain control over two girls she saved from a sure death.

The scares are hosted in two settings. The cabin in the woods is dark, dank and dusty, surrounded by creepy woods and dangerous cliffs. Muschietti finds reasons for frequent visits to provide Mama with her rural playground. The more urban setting is the large house provided to Lucas and Annabel by Dr. Drefuss, and it's full of narrow hallways, stairs, and not enough lighting. The camerawork here is playful, Muschietti often showing two rooms at once to build sly tension.

For the most part characters survive or expire in accordance with horror movie expectations, with just enough plot leftovers to justify a sequel. Mama has her uniquely obstinate ways of expressing motherly love, but she gets the job done.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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