Mama: A Review
Mama – Dir: Andres Muschietti; *ing: Jessica Chastain, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
While in traditional literatures the Mother has almost always been an embodiment of unconditional love, sacrifice and nurturing kindness, cinematic explorations of the maternal kind over the years have given us mother figures both benign – Mother India, Stella Dallas – and unyieldingly wicked – ‘Mrs. Bate’s in Psycho, Ma Barker etc. In yet more instances, the protective maternal instinct has been equated with a kind of unfettered madness that not only deals mercilessly with any perceived or real threat to the child, but may also destroy the very object of its protectiveness in the bargain – The Innocents, a chilling adaptation of Henry James’ novella The Turn Of The Screw leaps to mind. This Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror flick is similar to the extent that it too is based on existing material of a shorter format, in this case a short film of the same name by the same director. There the similarity pretty much ends, however, for while The Innocents and its literary source are brilliant examples of their genre, Mama turns out to be a run-of-the-mill wannabe shocker that relies on countless lame ‘boo!’ moments to ratchet up the horror quotient, rather than any actual genuine scares.
Victoria (Charpentier) and Lilly (Nelisse) are two orphaned little girls, rescued after five years from an abandoned cottage in the forest where their father had ‘left’ them after going on a murderous rampage that counted their mother among the victims. They are taken in by their uncle Lucas (Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) who try to return the two to some state of normalcy. But, it seems, the girls have brought along with them an uninvited, ghostly entity: the mysterious and easily agitated Mama, who watched over them in the cottage and now sets up home in the walls of the new house, ready to get medieval on anyone who threatens to divert the girls’ affection from herself.Taking out the wishy-washy uncle is child’s play, but Annabel, a goth-rock chick who is seemingly the furthest thing from a maternal figure, actually proves to be the toughest opponent to the ghoul, fighting to save her wards at any cost.
While most people cite comedy as the genre that is hardest to get right, it would seem that horror has now overtaken the funnies as the most elusive of film categories when it comes to creating stuff that is not an embarrassment to all involved. And invariably, anything that looks passable in trailers turns out to have used all its respectable bits as promotional material and the actual feature leaves the horror fan feeling like a chump. Mama, despite its fairly impressive pedigree, is really no different, employing so many mini-crescendo shocks that one loses count, while getting increasingly bored with each one. It doesn’t help matters that the titular apparition looks rather like a giant marshmallow left too close to the campfire. The premise of the film has potential but the script runs out of ideas fast; how many times can Mama leaping out banshee-like at people pass as storytelling, or even engrossing screen action?
The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain somehow manages to carve out an interesting character out of what is a pretty under-written role, and together with the two child actors, is the saving grace of the film. Other than that, to nick a film title, throw this momma from the train.
Cult: Psycho (1960) – the ‘mother’ of all slasher flicks, and arguably Hitchcock’s greatest, the film was loosely based on the true (and gruesome)story of serial killer Ed Gein.
Current: The Possession – Another day, another dollar, another ho-hum horror film that induces little more than a string of yawns.
Coming Attraction: Eleanor Rigby (2013) – Chastain stars in this two-part drama about a New York couple’s marriage, intriguingly named after the classic Beatles song.