MRR Movie Review: "Mama"


MRR Movie Review: "Mama"

-- Rating: PG-13 (violence and terror, thematic elements, some disturbing images)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2013
Directed by: Andrés Muschietti
Genre: Horror

The first scenes of "Mama" show a despondent Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gathering up his two adorable daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), to take them to a remote house in the woods. There, he plans to kill the girls before taking his own life. Though the audience isn't privy to why, he disappears before he can go through with his sick plan. This leaves the entire family to be classified as missing by the police, who soon give up hope of ever finding them alive.

The action picks up five years later, with Lucas's brother Jeffrey (also played by Coster-Waldau) still searching for his lost brother and nieces. He and his search team come upon a house that Jeffrey has seen before in a bizarre dream, so he instinctively knows something is wrong. His instincts were correct, because the girls are in there, disheveled, smelly, and completely out of sorts. He brings them into the city where Dr. Dreyfuss (Nicholas Kash) has a somewhat creepy fixation on the girls as he helps them assimilate back to normal life. He thinks the girls are not ready to leave the care facility, but Jeffrey is determined to give them a normal life after their ordeal. He enlists rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) to help him raise the girls.

After bringing them home, strange things begin to happen throughout the house. The girls seem to be talking to an invisible friend, who they identify simply as "Mama." While they were alone in the house in the woods, this supposed spirit watched over them, though it was alternately nurturing and malevolent. It gave the girls a mother's love one moment, then terrified them the next. Mama isn't physically revealed until later in the film, but her presence is known as she starts to scare Jeffrey and Annabel into wondering if they have made a big mistake bringing the girls home. Somewhere along the way, Annabel's latent maternal instincts kick in, forcing her to shed her devil-may-care attitude in favor of becoming the girls' protector. In the end, it is Annabel versus Mama, which turns out to be a thrilling, tense rollercoaster of a battle that produces some genuine jump-in-your-seat moments.

Chastain has appeared in several critically acclaimed movies, such as "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty," both of which garnered her Academy Award nominations. She could have easily continued to star in Oscar-bait movies but smartly decided to branch out into a new genre. Her trademark red hair is gone here, replaced by a rock star look that makes her almost unrecognizable and helps her blend completely into the character. "Mama" shows that this talented actress can do any type of movie, including horror. Coster-Waldau is best known for "Game of Thrones" but also shows he can go beyond the walls of that show's castles to do chilling, present-day horror in a performance that matches Chastain's blow for blow.

Director Andrés Muschietti does a fantastic job of framing all the eerie things that are happening to the characters in every scene. Blinking lights, creaking doors, and shadowy corners are all oft-used horror movie tropes, but Muschietti's framing and expert mood setting give them new life. He also shows great restraint with the special effects, letting them enhance the story rather than detract from it. In all, "Mama" feels like the work of a seasoned professional, which is why some may be surprised that Muschietti had only directed two short films before this. He also co-wrote the screenplay, making him a real double threat in the movie industry. Don't be surprised to see his name pop up in higher profile films in the future based on this outing.

Likewise, co-screenwriter Neil Cross seemingly came out of nowhere to help pen the script, which is oozing with intelligent pathos. Cross had previously only been known in his native England, where he penned several episodes of the gripping BBC drama "Luther." Like Muschietti, "Mama" marks his first foray into feature films, but he handles it like he has done it a million times before. The script is written as if Cross and Muschietti know when the audience needs a break from the action and tension and when to go full throttle. The result is a rollercoaster ride filled with more chills than any widely released horror movie in recent memory. Throw in ace performances from Chastain and Coster-Waldau, and the result is a fantastic chiller of a movie that may give viewers pause before they turn out the lights to go to sleep.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars