In the opening scene we see a car parked outside a house.The door is open and the car radio can be heard, which informs us that like the last financial crisis this time too (2008) there has been extreme consequences.An analyst working for an investment bank has gone berserk and shot two of his colleagues .He is missing and the police are looking for him.Its a horror film already.
But Mama is not the kind of horror film that describes the man made devastation that we wreck upon ourselves.This is a more conventional horror flick full of jumpy moments when you are likely to get startled out of your wits and embarrass yourself in front of your neighbor in the next seat who seems to watching a different film, a comedy perhaps.So a good horror film involves being anxious or jumpy or both, but keeping your body under control.It really helps if you have somebody to lean onto.
We enter the house and see the crazed executive Lucas (Nikolaj Koster-Waldau) drive off with his two little girls on an icy mountain road.He has just killed his wife.He is going too fast and even his daughter thinks so.The car skids off the frozen road and they scramble out into the ominous woods.They find an abandoned cottage soon enough, as it always happens, and we know for sure that going in is a stupid idea.But this man has just killed 3 people, he is beyond reason.He is about to kill his daughters and himself when a supernatural being swoops down on him and pulls him away, into hell perhaps.His daughters are left alone in the icy cottage.That they will survive becomes clear and the title credits show us crayon drawings depicting them morphing into subhuman beings and go back to walking on all fours.
Jump cut 5 years and Lucases brother Jeffrey, also played by Koster-Waldau, is still on the lookout for his nieces. He is living with his girlfriend Annabel played by Jessica Chastain who is part of a band.One day his hired investigators stumble upon the car and the cottage.They find the girls, they have survived but are completely damaged goods.They end up in the temporary care of a Dr. Dreyfuss who finds the prospect of studying the girls a goldmine of professional opportunity, to be exploited beyond the realm of good sense.The sight of the two little wild girls is one the most terrifying part of the film, we expect them to turn out to be ultra-violent, unpredictable and worse, evil.Instead they turn out to be just innocent children who have been through an unspeakable ordeal.
The girls are put into the care of Jeffrey and Annabel who try their best to bring them back into a “normal” way of life.Of course evil forces are at work.They were in the care of “mama” in the woods who visits them in their new home, steering clear of the adults.Hereafter the film spirals into a familiar territory of scary jumpy moments, of close brushes with evil, set to nerve-wracking music.
Horror is a genre not for the faint hearted, for the directors that is.The task of scaring a new age audience fed an almost daily diet of gore and thrills supplied by TV shows, theme park rides, video games and novelty horror fare like the three installments of Paranormal Activity and counting, is indeed fraught with its own faux horror.
Andy Muschetti directs with a quiet assured touch and delivers a fair share of genuine jumpy moments.He uses a completely desaturated colour palette which feels unreal and but does help the film achieve a chilly atmosphere.Mama of course comes tagged with the name of Guillermo del Toro (director of the cult classic Pans Labyrinth) as the executive producer, which must be an assurance of much above-average fare, given his well-earned reputation as a highly inventive and original filmmaker. Muschetti delivers some very stylized flashbacks which provide a back story to the evil in the film.The use of Azetic Black Witch Moths, the same species which had a starring role in The Silence of the Lambs, to underscore the eeriness and offer a link between us and the supernatural, adds a mythic dimension to the film.
The ethereal and statuesque Jessica Chastain is the star of this film and indeed the star of the year.She is nominated for Oscar this year for Zero Dark Thirty following her nomination last year for Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life.That great film launched Chastain, who has since played an amazing range of roles with astonishing felicity.In Mama she supplies a very credible version of a well-meaning girlfriend who takes great risk in doing the right thing when it comes to the future of two small children.
Horror films must either overwhelm us with the scares or supply us with an emotional link to the characters which makes us scared for them and not just ourselves.Mama tried to do both and succeeds partly on both counts.At the heart of the film is the strongest and sometimes the most damning relationship known to us, that of a mother and child.This is the one bond that drives people to unimaginable limits and suggests an almost otherworldly pull. A great many horror films play on the maternal instincts inside all of us, this one spins it into a very enjoyable thrill ride.
#Mama was released worldwide on 18th Jan 2013.Its currently playing in Singapore.