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John’s Horror Corner: Mama (2013)

January 20, 2013

MY CALL:  Good acting, a monster that I don’t see too little, good effects (even if it is all just CGI) and a story I can swallow…we have a winner!  This movie is nothing epic nor did it have the best scares I’ve seen in a while, but it’s a horror movie that “works.”  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Tough to say… maybe The Possession (2012)? Perhaps Dead Silence (2007) or The Uninvited (2009).  Just a few stabs in the dark.  GUILLERMO DEL TORO SIDEBAR:  He was the executive producer on this.  While his ideas are nothing short of AMAZING, when he isn’t helming a project they tend to fall short of our expectations (e.g., Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark).  I don’t feel that happened here.

First time feature director Andrés Muschietti  (writer/director of the short film Mamá) does a solid job with atmosphere and “creepy.”  The story gets moving when two orphaned girls are discovered in an abandoned cabin in the woods after five years somehow surviving on their own (now they’re about 9 and 7 years old-ish).  Their eyes are cold and scared yet somehow predatory, their hair and skin far beyond wildly filthy, and their movement is so unnatural that it reminds me more of a Silent Hill monster than an animal.  More disturbing was the degeneration of their oral skills with the exception of whispering “mama.”

Much to my surprise, the maternal poltergeist Mama was not a kept mystery.  Mama, her appearance, what she’s capable of and her relationship with the girls are all presented to us right away.  So when the feral Victoria (Megan Charpentier; Resident Evil: Retribution, Red Riding Hood, Jennifer’s Body) and Lilly are taken in by uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau; HBO’s Games of Thrones, Headhunters) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain; Lawless, The Debt, Zero Dark Thirty), the movie doesn’t rely on us wondering when Mama will pop up and reign terror on the new foster parents.  Instead we watch the girls maintain a secret relationship with Mama while remaining emotionally distant from Lucas and Annabel.

But once their child psychologist and the new parents catch on to Mama’s presence, simply a psychological manifestation or even a home invader by their perception, Mama feels threatened.  And once the girls begin to open up to the doctor or feel affection for their new parents, Mama gets pissed!  So we find ourselves not only nervous when we’re “normally” nervous in these movies (e.g., walking in dark halls, opening the ajar closet door, looking over your shoulder to see what the girls are looking at), but we’re also nervous when things wouldn’t normally be unnerving…like when we see Annabel desperately hugging a thrashing Lilly, who starts to find the embrace comforting…I wonder if Mama is watching.

What’s interesting is how this movie has such a simple story with one simple revelation toward its end, no red herrings and no real surprises–yet, it really works.  I thought they had some trouble making the finale at the end come together, actually I thought it was too drawn out and a bit weak, but overall I was VERY pleased with this movie.

We start out feeling edgy about the girls, and as they normalize we start feeling edgy about Mama (Javier Botet; creature actor of all three [REC] films).  And Mama is worth feeling edgy about.  She looks quite contorted, distorted and disturbing, moves like a bipedal yet quadriplegic demon on meth, and manifests an aura of decay.  I felt effectively continuously worried about what this apparition was going to do next, and the pace of the movie never disappoints.

I feel like we’ve been trained to find piss poor acting to be totally acceptable when it comes to horror.  But Mama‘s cast features nothing but competency and a few pleasant surprises.  Of course, no one should be shocked that Jessica Chastain pulled off the stand-offish girlfriend turned hesitant parent.  But what about young Megan Charpentier?  As the reserved older sister Victoria and her stone cold portrayal of The Red Queen in the latest Resident Evil installment she has all the makings of both one of the youngest Scream Queens ever, but also a talented young actress!

Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 3.50.43 AM

This movie was a pleasure with good characters, a monster that I don’t see too little, good effects (even if it is all just CGI) and a story I can swallow.  I look forward to watching this with an easily scared date on my couch in the dark.  😉

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2013 10:48 pm

    If you’re giving out suggestions, I’d suggest the Spanish film The Orphanage, also “brought to you” by Del Toro. This one isn’t as fast-paced and doesn’t have giant gangly blood-curdling monsters played by Javier Botet swooping at you, but it’s scary as hell is one of the best and most frightening ghost stories made in the last ten years. Ghost stories are the hardest to pull off–for them to work, there’s so many elements that have to be just so. Music, atmosphere, acting, cinematography, story, setting, pace… when all the elements snap into place, though, you have an amazing, and very frightening, movie. Many fans of subtitled horror have probably already seen it, but I heartily recommend it. I rented it from Netflix and then purchased it. I watched it in full daylight and it still freaked me the hell out! If you love a ghost story done right and haven’t seen it, you’re missing a treat.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      July 6, 2013 11:32 pm

      I also enjoyed The Orphanage. I hesitated to recommend it since many have difficulty reading their way through movies which rely on our sensory fixation to the screen (in this case, horror). But I agree that it’s great…though, at a much slower pace.

      • July 7, 2013 12:14 am

        The Orphanage is the rare horror film that didnt annoy me. There is some beautifully scary visions

  2. April 18, 2014 9:31 pm

    Haven’t watched this yet but will endeavor to ASAP. It’s on my to-do-list. Thanks brother.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 18, 2014 9:40 pm

      Of all things, I’m a bit surprised you put this one off for so long.

Trackbacks

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  5. John’s Horror Corner: The Haunting of Helena (2013), a dark fairy tale about a vengeful Tooth Fairy | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. John’s Horror Corner: Lights Out (2016), Mama meets the Babadook as we watch Wan’s new vengeful ghost. | Movies, Films & Flix

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