This is another creepy horror from director Guillermo del Toro that has children as main characters. He really has a way with stories that use the perspective of children to access the deepest most primitive fears of the darkness and the unknown.
Two little girls Lilly and Victoria are kidnapped by their father Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who takes them to a remote cabin in the woods. Since he has killed their mother there’s a strong hint he’s going to kill them and himself but then Mama appears and kills him.
Five years later and Jeffrey’s brother Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has not given up hunting for his Jeffrey and his daughters even though he has spent all his money hiring two men to searching the whole county. Then one day they find Jeffrey’s car abandoned in the woods after it went off the road and they soon come across the cabin. Inside are the two little girls who have gone totally feral and behave like frightened wild animals
The girls are in the clinic of psychologist Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) who is workings on getting the girls socialized again. This is going better with older girl Victoria (Megan Charpentier) but there has only been limited success with Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) who was only a baby when their father died. He believes the girls created Mama out of their imagination.
Lucas wants custody of the two girls but their mother’s aunt Jean (Jane Moffat) has also applied for custody on the grounds that she can offer them a stable home while Lucas is a struggling artist and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) is a bass guitarist with a rock band and tours around a lot. Before the girls were found Annabel was happy with her rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and not really ready to settle down and have kids but she knows how much Lucas wants them. The court will go along with Dr Dreyfuss’s recommendation and he prefers Lucas and Annabel but only on the condition that they move into a large house owned by his institute so he can continue with his work with the girls.
When they move into the house at first it seems the girls are still clinging on to their Mama fantasy but it gets more obvious to Annabel as things go on that Mama is real presence and a very real threat to Lucas, Annabel and the girls.
The film is good at creating a creepy atmosphere with a consistently k muted look full of dark shadows where Mama hides. The Mama CGI gets less scary the more she appears later in the film but it was never too distracting. The children playing Victoria and Lily really are very good with a mixture of innocence and vulnerability and wildness and danger.
Annabel starts the film not wanting to have children so of course the film has her looking after the children on her own and trying to protect them from the jealous clutches of Mama. At first she’s doing it out of her love of Lucas but later she’s willing to fight the angry spirit for the girls. It is a bit of an abrupt turnaround but it’s typical of films to condense emotional arcs like this and Jessica manages to pull it off okay.
This is an effective ghost story with a straightforward plot that relies on creepy atmosphere more than gore.
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Review: Mama (2013) (monsterzeronj.wordpress.com)
- Mama (living24fps.wordpress.com)