Tuesday, January 29, 2013


MAMA (Andrés Muschietti, 2013)

A 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.

Regardless 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.

Victoria 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.  
Within 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.    

Chastain 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.

MAMA 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 astonishing manner.  

Grade: B-

No comments:

Post a Comment