January 21, 2013

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

When I first saw the trailer for Mama I have to admit that I was intrigued. The movie looked genuinely creepy, and that is always a good element to have when talking about a ghost story. However, despite the generally positive reaction I had to the trailer, he prospect of it actually being a good movie left me conflicted. The biggest problem was that it was rated PG-13. On the other side, it has none other than Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) on board as a producer and he is not the sort who lends his name lightly. There must have been something about this project that caught his attention, that fact should make this a worthwhile endeavor.



Well, I went to see Mama with an open mind. I hoped to enjoy it, but have to say that I was skeptical. Keeping some healthy skepticism is a good way to stave off disappointment while keeping some space available should the film overachieve. I am happy to report that while the film is not perfect, it definitely overachieved and delivers a creepy and fresh ghost story to the big screen.

There are pieces that seem to go unexplained and places where holes seem to exist, but sometimes you just have to accept what is happening, go with it. I am not offering that as an excuse, or something that will necessarily apply to every movie. What I am saying is that there are movies that bring something fresh to the table and tell it with a certain elegance that makes it easier to overlook some things on order to enjoy the whole. Mama is one of those movies.


A series of tragic events lead to the orphaning of the two young girl characters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse). They are left alone in an abandoned cabin deep in the woods, receiving help from a ghostly figure, the titular Mama. Meanwhile, back in civilization, the girls' uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Anabel (Jessica Chastain), have been paying a tracking team to search for the missing girls.

Five years following the unsettling opening moments, the girls are found and brought back to civilization and, ultimately, the care of Lucas and Anabel. The problem is that they did not come alone. They brought Mama with them. That is all you need to know, description wise.

Mama is a fresh take on the ghost story, it even takes a few daring steps along the way. Yes, it still falls into some of the same traps that modern ghost stories tend to make. There are the requisite jump scares, creepy music, and characters that do or say things that real people would not necessarily do or say, but when it comes right down to it, they are an integral part of the experience.


You are probably wondering what it is that makes this a worthwhile ghost story. Well, for starters, I loved the idea of a ghost engaging in maternal instincts. Mama is an interestingly developed character, despite some rather inadequate CGI, she is able to elicit a wide array of emotions from me. She can be frightening, friendly, protective, and ultimately very sad. For someone who does little more than float around with creepy fingers outstretched scaring and killing, I have to say that is quite a feat.

The two girls are also a big reason why the movie works as well as it does. They are well written and the performances are quite good. I never found them annoying, quite the opposite. Watching them brought out of the wild and the issues encountered with, essentially, re-civilizing them, not to mention their connection to the ghost is fascinating.

Another big piece of the puzzle is Jessica Chastain as Anabel. Here is a character not interested in being any sort of parent, but she does ultimately make a connection and becomes protective in her own right. She is believable, sympathetic, and heroic, all held together in a fine performance. I also love that they made her this psuedo punk rock chick, it is a different look for a lead and I liked the tattoos.


Director Andres Muschietti does a fine job of keeping all of these elements moving and coherent. Yes, the final act feels a touch rushed and we are expected to accept quite a bit, but I really had no problem doing so. He has crafted a delicate tale that attempts to do much more than just make you jump. It is a tale of parental love, a desire to be protective, and the age old idea of a ghost attempting right a wrong. It is about connections, maintaining them, and having them for the right reasons.

Mama is not so much a straight up scary movie, it is more of a tragedy. The movie so surprisingly sad, completely not what I was expecting. It is a tale that has a seriously creepy vibe, but is able to let the sadness and tragedy come through. There are some interesting risks taken, including a certain moment near the beginning, as well as in its ending. It is not your typical happy Hollywood ending, there is a certain amount of joy I it, but it takes a chance in the way it plays out, sealing on the tragedy for eternity.

It is nice to see a ghost story that can appeal to a wide audience and still feel fresh and take some chances. This is a solid film, not perfect, but definitely one that can suck you in and play with your emotions. I mean that with all sincerity, it is a bit o a roller coaster that will leave you drained.

Highly Recommended.


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