Mama film review.


Release Date: 22 February 2013
15 | 100 minutes
Distributor: Universal
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Those lamenting the dearth of good, old-fashioned scary ghost story movies not contingent on found footage or torture porn need look no further than this little gem, based on a short by siblings Andy and Barbara Muschietti. Producer Guillermo del Toro helped the pair expand their spooky kernel of an idea into a very affecting story of the beauty and terror of maternal love.

The film opens with a very disturbing act of human parenting, which leaves tiny sisters Victoria and Lilly alone to exist in an abandoned house deep in the woods. Except maybe they’re not alone? Something provides them with wild cherries for sustenance, and protects them from the creatures surrounding the house. For five years, the girls survive there together, until a tireless search by their uncle Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reveals their whereabouts.

Brought back to civilisation, the now ten-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and five-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are positively feral. Emaciated and walking on all fours, the girls are a fascinating case study for child psychologist Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). Bohemian Luke, meanwhile, just wants to love the girls and give them a good life – even if his punk rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) isn’t ready for an instant family. The four move into a suburban house so that the girls can acclimatise (and be studied). But what nobody anticipates – except for the girls – is that their long-time guardian, who both girls openly refer to as Mama, is joining them…

Initially Mama provides the “gotcha” scares, as she lurks just out of frame, interacting with her girls and creating unease. But when Victoria starts to warm to this world, Mama gets jealous and lashes out at her rival, forcing Annabel to step up.

The Muschiettis do a fine job crafting the scares, but they get major marks for building a chilling narrative that sucks you into the heart-wrenching backstory of this sincerely creepy creature with attachment issues, and why she’s attached to Victoria and Lilly. But Mama’s success lies squarely on the shoulders of young Megan and Isabelle, who do some stellar work creating believable creeps while simultaneously breaking our hearts.

Very European in its direction, aesthetic and narrative, Mama possesses a strong, emotional core that will surprise those jaded by some of the lazier horror titles of late.

Tara Bennett

Watch four Mama clips.
Watch a Mama behind-the-scenes featurette.
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