MOVIE REVIEW: MAMA (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet
Director: Andres Muschietti

The past two years have been very good to Jessica Chastain. She’s starred in many films such as The Tree of Life, The Help, and Lawless, and this year she’s up for Best Actress for her role in Zero Dark Thirty.

I was a bit surprised to see her in a horror film, because usually B listers or up-and-coming actresses are given those roles. Chastain is great in this film, and for the weekend of Jan. 18 – 20 Mama came in at #1 and Zero Dark Thirty was #2 at the box office. Congrats!

Ok, enough Chastain love. Let’s get into this review.

Mama 2013

That’s Mama and little Lily in this poster.

Andres Muschietti directed this feature film, and on Youtube you can find his 2008 short film, also titled Mama. It’s a little over 3 minutes long, which you can watch below. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. Trust me.

Of course, Muschietti had to take those three minutes and turn them into 100 minutes, and I think he did a good job. Mama has the right blend of humor, drama, and horror, and it moved at a quick pace so I never felt like the storyline dragged at any time.

In Mama, a father drags his two young daughters from their suburban home to an abandoned cabin in the woods. It’s 2008 and the financial crisis has just hit, and the father plans to kill his daughters and then commit suicide. There’s a shadowy figure in the cabin, and it saves the young girls from their father. The girls, Victoria and Lily (Charpentier and Nélisse), call the figure ‘Mama’.

The girls are rescued and then sent to live with their uncle, Lucas (Coster-Waldau), and his girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain). Lucas is a slacker and Annabel is a wannabe rocker girl, but they realize they’ll need to grow up if they want to take care of the children. Here’s what they don’t realize: Mama has followed the young girls from the cabin to their uncle’s home. Also, Mama has a jealous streak, and she doesn’t appreciate Annabel taking over the mommy role, so that’s when the trouble starts. The rest of the movie sees Annabel and Lucas trying to figure out who Mama is, and why she’s terrorizing them.

I think the first half of the movie rides on the typical horror film cheap tricks, such as loud bangs and a sudden, unexpected appearance of the children or Mama’s shadow. There’s also the fear of the unknown as the girls interact with Mama, who is often off camera. There’s one scene that is both funny and frightening: Lily is in a bedroom playing tug of war with Mama, who is out of view behind a wall. At the same time, Annabel is heading into that bedroom and might catch her first glimpse of Mama…

Which leads us to the second half, where Mama reveals herself to Annabel and audience, and the action takes off. Now that Annabel knows what she’s dealing with, she stands tall and is ready to do whatever it takes to save the girls from a horrible end.

Despite the really bad wig she’s wearing, Chastain is the driving force in this film and she is missed when she’s not on screen. Her transformation from a reluctant guardian to a protective mother figure is believable, and she’s one of only two characters that are fully developed. The other character is Mama, and we see her backstory through an impressive dream sequence.

Mama delivers plenty of scares, and I definitely recommend it. I don’t think it will be a horror classic, but it’s a must see for any Guillermo del Toro fans. He didn’t direct this film but he did produce it, and those who enjoyed the visual style of Pan’s Labyrinth should appreciate this short movie turned feature film.

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