MAMA (Andrés Muschietti, 2013)
distraught father of two little girls comes home, kills their mother,
and takes the kids with him before the authorities arrive in MAMA. His
reckless driving results in the car sliding off the icy country road and
being totaled. All three escape with just some scratches and bruises
and make their way to a ramshackle cabin deep in the forest, but the
one- and three-year-old sisters have not found safety. Their tearful
father still intends to murder them. As he’s about to pull the trigger,
a spectral figure comes to the rescue.
of the time and expense, their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pays
men to search for the missing girls. Five years later six-year-old
Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) and eight-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier)
are found, but his nieces have turned feral in the intervening time.
While under psychiatric supervision, they draw pictures and speak of
someone they call Mama. Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) wants to get to the
bottom of this mystery, so he helps Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel
(Jessica Chastain) become their custodians on the condition that he will
continue to have access to the troubled siblings.
and Lilly resist adapting to their new home environment. The girls are
still drawn to someone or something they know as Mama and often hostile
to their caregivers, especially Annabel. She wasn’t necessarily eager
to become a mother and is put in the difficult position of watching them
on her own when Lucas is hospitalized after nearly being killed by the
jealous and protective entity that has followed his nieces to the house.
the context of a modern Brothers Grimm fairy tale MAMA considers the
range of maternal instincts from dutiful indifference to selfish
sheltering. Director and co-writer Andrés Muschietti lays out an
ingenious comparison and contrast between Annabel and Mama in which more
admirable qualities are associated with the antagonist. Mama is a
fierce guardian of the girls from the moment she encounters them whereas
Annabel struggles with the role she’s forced to adopt. Mama plays with
Victoria and Lilly while Annabel prefers to bide her time sticking to
her interests and relates to the kids as required in a legal capacity.
has developed into one of today’s best actresses through more reputable
fare than this horror film, yet she invests the role with the same
commitment given to characters embodying eternal grace and searching for
Osama bin Laden. Under an unflattering black pixie wig, Chastain
reveals rock band bassist Annabel as a reluctant mother torn between her
inclinations and obligations. In what becomes an affecting journey,
Chastain gradually exposes her character’s evolving feelings for the
girls as Annabel is able to step outside herself.
has its share of screenplay contrivances to be overlooked, which is
often par for the course with genre films, but it succeeds where it
matters most. Muschietti utilizes screen space well, particularly in
scenes in which Mama is present but unseen to Annabel. He maintains a
good balance of atmosphere to jump scares and enhances the former with
sepia tone visuals suggestive of legend. (The brown-tinted images pop
the most in a haunting flashback/nightmare sequence.) Thrillingly, MAMA
builds to an ending that summarizes its theme in a beautiful and