It’s my first 2013 review! Hooray! Mama, starring Jessica Chastain, is the story of two young girls who are left to survive on their own in the woods for five years. When their Uncle Lucas finally finds them, they are in rough shape. He takes them to live with him and his girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) in a house where they can be monitored and studied by a psychiatrist. It soon becomes clear that something or someone came back with the girls, and Annabel does her best to help them and figure it out at the same time.
I had no clue what to expect from this film going into it, and I have to say it was refreshing to watch something current and not featuring a deranged serial killer with a razor glove/machete/butcher knife. This film received pretty good reviews, and while I didn’t think it quite measured up to the 66% that Rotten Tomatoes gave it, I did enjoy it. The premise was original and creepy right off the bat. Victoria and Lilly (the two girls) are brought to the woods by their father, who just finished killing his business partners and wife. The girls are left to fend for themselves and when the audience sees them next, they are far from what they were.
Victoria, having been old enough to walk and talk at the time she was abandoned, cleans up fairly well and is able to speak and walk upright again. Lilly, however, is a different story. She struggles to verbally communicate at all and often moves from one location to the other on all fours, almost like an ape. The malnourished state the girls are found in is sad and creepy. Both survived on a diet of moths and cherries for five years, and Lilly continues to eat that way even back at the house. The lack of skills and knowledge they both have is unsettling and sets a scary tone.
This film is a lot like a sleuth and the audience spends most of it attempting to figure out who “mama” is just like the doctor, Lucas and Annabel. When the truth comes out, mama is less scary and more sad, which I thought detracted from the horror. The ending of this film frustrated me to no end and without revealing anything, I’ll just say that it was sad as well. This movie was more depressing to me than scary, which made it difficult to rate higher.
I loved seeing an actress of such talent cast in this film; bringing actual talent to horror is definitely saving it. However, I thought this was an awkward role for Chastain. Her character’s goth persona seemed to be trying too hard. It was almost as if she told her agent she wanted a role the complete opposite of her and anything she could be typecast as. While I appreciate her range, at times the character’s “I’m a bass player raging against the machine” motif distracted me from the film.
Mama left me feeling forlorn and a bit unsettled. It didn’t leave me running through the house turning all the lights on and blasting Disney music. Sure, not all horror should be terrifying. Some are sad or disturbing or just creepy. Mama is a solid sad horror, but it could have been more. A few more bumps in the night and this film could’ve rated higher. A solid showing, though, and definitely a great addition to the ghosts on horror island.
If you liked Mama, you might also like Poltergeist, The Woman in Black and The Awakening.