Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they? (Source)
If you think love is scary, you haven’t seen anything yet. Mama, produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by first timer Andres Muschietti kicks off the year with an original and new take on the classic ghost story. Taking cues from gothic chillers while adding a new creature to the horror lexicon, the film is proof that you can take old tropes and transform them into something new if you have the right idea and a meaningful purpose. It’s no surprise then, that Mama exceeds where so many have failed, building a progressively frightening tale about a mother’s unfathomable and intangible love that’s refreshingly poignant, emotionally resonant and fundamentally scary.
After a tragic event, Victoria and Lilly loose both of their parents in one day and are left abandoned at a remote cabin in the woods. After 5 years and a tireless search, they’re finally found and reunited with their father’s brother, Lucas (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau) and his punk rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, doing her best Lisbeth). All those years alone however have left the girls feral and wild, and as they try to adjust to civilized life, it turns out that they may have brought something back from the woods with them — an entity whose been watching over them and will do everything in it’s power to stop them from leaving.
By nature, horror is the most transparent and repetitious genre, making no illusions as to it’s only real intent to scare, jolt or shock. Mama however, benefits from director Andres Muschietti’s knowledge of the genre, and it’s his ability to twist tropes and expectations that allows him to tell an organic story with a powerful, emotional wallop. The craftsmanship and convergence of storytelling tools is as tight as can be, from the music (that lullaby is beautiful), the atmospheric aesthetic, the variety of escalating shocks, which range from extremely subtle to deafeningly fierce, and the pace, which bucks the current awful trend of waiting till the film’s 3rd act to get the ball rolling — this film is tense from the start and never lets up. Admittedly though, the film isn’t perfect, and some shoddy CG which threatens to ruin the film’s creature once it finally steps out of the shadows. Still, to it’s defense, it’s a brave gamble which I’m glad was taken, and you can’t deny the creation of it’s genuine eeriness as it floats and contorts it’s way into filling the creature-feature void which Hollywood has been afraid of for sometime now. All of this culminates into an ending that’s surpassingly dark, yet poetic and hopeful — it’s a brave way to go out for a film that wasn’t afraid to do things in it’s own way.
In addition to the film’s excellent direction, is a set of stars which sell the emotion of the story. The show stealers here are without a doubt, Jessica Chastain (when isn’t she!?), and the two child actors Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. What’s interesting about Chastain’s character is not only that she’s a believable punk rocker, but that her character starts out in the background, before becoming the center of the film, acting as an antithesis of sorts to the malevolent Mama. It’s a clever reversal for her character and crystalizes the film’s themes of instinctual and unbreakable paternal bonds. Seriously though, Chastain can do no wrong — at all. Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse round out the trio, as the two young feral siblings who try to cope with a new world. Without ruining much, the feral scenes are very scary, and just against the two, there’s a wonderful dichotomy happening which illustrates the instinctual way that family members become dependent on one another. The story also thankfully gives them more to do than offer up menacing threats (a convention I’m glad the film skipped) and instead uses them to portray and innocence that’s rarely found in this type of film. Lastly, Game of Thrones fans will love seeing Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau playing a much different and more noble character, but although he has genuine charisma, he isn’t the focus here.
In the end, this feels very much like a dark, Guillermo Del Toro fairy tale even if he only produced it. Despite that, director Andres Muschietti shows off some serious directing skills, and a voice of his own, proving that he’s one to look out for. Mama is sure to please anyone who doesn’t mind an actual story with their scares and can appreciate a film that embraces scary ideals over wanton blood and destruction. In a month of throw-away horror flicks, Mama is the one that’s worth watching.
Crome Rating: 4/5