It takes a lot to impress me within the horror genre these days especially when it’s a higher budget studio movie. It seems the higher the budget, the more the horror is watered down. MAMA is a very unconventional movie in that respect. There are shades of other films, but for the most part it’s a highly original piece with a genuinely eerie story and a very atypical ending.
Both characters portrayed by GAME OF THRONES’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lucas’ twin brother Jeffrey has murdered his own wife and then disappeared with his two young daughters. Five years later, the children are discovered living in a cabin in the woods. Having had no other human interaction in that time, they have turned feral, especially Lilly the younger one. Victoria was older at the time and still retained a shred of her humanity.
Lucas petitions to be their guardian much to the chagrin of his live-in girlfriend Annabel (a punked out, bass guitar playing Jessica Chastain). The emotionally stunted girls will still be supervised by Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) who has ulterior motives for wanting the children close to home.
If this wasn’t a challenging situation already, it is further compounded by the girls’ real guardian: The spirit of a long dead mental patient with a jealous streak. The kids call her “Mama” and Mama doesn’t take too kindly to others messing with her brood.
Given that the film is produced by Guillermo Del Toro, it’s clear from the beginning that this is not going to be run of the mill. The story is handled in a very mature way and the performances are what really sell the drama. The always-dependable Chastain gives one of the most unusual performances I’ve seen in a modern horror movie. She acts like a real person! Most female roles in horror films range from the extreme victim to the extreme whore with not much nuance in between. Her character is so refreshing to watch because Annabel is never a victim and is very proactive. She also remains consistent in her views and has a genuine arc over the course of the story. Thematically the movie deals with motherhood and Annabel is not ready to be a mother, but is forced to reconsider her feelings when she becomes the girls’ only chance for survival.
The movie isn’t without its flaws and some of the plotting is a tad clumsy. I also wish they used a little more practical FX rather than relying so heavily on mediocre CGI. But neither of these gripes are enough to distract from the overall film. If you want a well-made and creepy horror film that delivers on a number of levels, than MAMA is worth your time.
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