When I saw MAMA, it was early November – and I had not yet seen even a trailer. Universal arranged a screening for me to consider it for BNAT14. So I went to see the movie with Father Geek. Just the two of us. We don’t get the opportunity to see movies with each other exclusively very often because, well… Yoko comes along – and that’s how we prefer it… But when we get these rare screenings, I have to say – it takes years off, I feel like a kid watching a movie with Dad. And when your Mama has been dead for nearly 20 years… and it’s a GHOST STORY about a Mama… Well it can get to ya.
But the MAMA in this story isn’t haunting her children, or relatives, or even necessarily any specific place. You see… Mama is a ghost that is in an area. But before we get there – I want to talk a bit about the opening of the film.
I LOVE IT.
When you see the opening, you’ll be a bit confused. It doesn’t feel like a supernatural film. In fact, it feels all too real. I won’t specify, because I really do feel you should discover this opening as cleanly as possible. But as it plays, you listen to radio – and you begin to have a sick feeling in your stomach. It’s the sort of thing that is too often in our news and talked about in our cultural. A horrifying snap. And it is still snapping.
After the ride in the car, our characters come across a cabin in the woods… with creepy statuary… And a distinct late 60’s – 70’s sense of décor… but worn down. Taken in by the elements a bit. The place looks like an ideal hideout. But there are no supplies and… oh yeah, the snappee’!
Throughout all of this – we are experiencing some of this from the very young children’s perspective – and as a human being, I ache for them. Then a new character steps in as a guardian. A new… MAMA. And yeah… MAMA is really scary, but that’s not all. She saves these children. I don’t think there’s a single person in the audience that doesn’t sympathize with Mama’s spirit to a bit. But we’re not there yet. You see, after this moment the film jumps perspective and years. Where we meet the characters we’ll spend the film getting to know and be worried about.
Of these new characters, my favorite is Jessica Chastain – and not because of ZERO DARK THIRTY – a film that I’m not here to review. But I will say that I prefer her character in MAMA greatly. One, with the dark hair, that tattoos, the few scenes of her with her band & band mates… I liked her. I like her being happy about not being pregnant, and I get that she’s happy being in a band and being shacked up with a crusader artist on a never-ending quest to discover what happened to his brother and his two nieces. He’s spent more than he has in the search, but ask your self… at what point do you give up on your loved ones?
This character is played by the same actor from the opening of the film – and is his twin brother. I first saw Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the brilliant foreign film, HEADHUNTERS at Fantastic Fest two years ago – and then delighted in his role on GAME OF THRONES as Jaime Lannister. He’s great as the brother trying to be there for his nieces. Chastain’s Annabel and Waldau’s Lucas are good. Lucas wants to find the girls and find out what happened to his brother, but he isn’t cuckoo about it. They have good sex and a fun hip life.
Then the girls are found.
The immediate problem that faces the couple is that these nieces… they’re pretty much nightmares. They’ve become completely Feral children. They move as one in completely creepy manners. In fact, a great deal of my creep out in this movie is the very notion of having to deal with insane feral children. Generally, I like kids. But I do not want these kids. They’re not entirely with us, because they’ve spent a great deal of time communing with the spirit they call, MAMA.
The older girl is Victoria, she’s got bad eyes… as in poor vision, and when the tragedy occurs in the opening of the film, she has her glasses destroyed, so when she is given her vision back with her glasses… and the idea that Lucas looks exactly like her father Jeffrey (from the opening)… well, she begins to trust him a bit, but she’s very guarded. Guarded because she knows Mama. She knows that Mama gets mad, moody, violent. She knows that Mama is jealous and protective of HER girls… and the more she likes Lucas & Annabel, the more worried she gets. She tries not to show affection because she doesn’t want to incite Mama. I love Victoria.
Lilly? Lilly scares the hell out of me. Her whole memory is being raised by Mama. Being feral is her accepted life. She likes the cherries she lived on and isn’t prone to trying anything other than what she knows. These people feel scary and different to her, she loves Mama. Mama can do amazing things that these people can’t do. But the problem that Lily can’t grasp is that Mama is dead… and you really shouldn’t love dead things.
So – the kids – they’re a fucking nightmare.
Then you have Chastain’s Annabel, who always believed that Lucas’ brother had probably off’d himself and the kids years ago… so when the kids are found, her friends want her to drop the boyfriend. Annabel is an anti-establishment type, but she loves Lucas – and to love Lucas is to love Lucas’ quest. His dream. You might not believe it, but it is what drives him. This wonderfully talented and caring man… who loves her. But she doesn’t like kids… she doesn’t know how to be around them. One, they’re feral and weird. Two, Lucas gets himself out of the picture for a bit and she ends up having to care for the kids herself… And it is in this section of the movie that I just fell in love with Annabel. She knows that the kids are everything to her Lucas – and he can’t be there for them – and she toughs it up and tries her best to take care of them… but…
Now… my favorite bit of casting in the film belongs to Jane Moffat, she plays the rich sister of the nieces’ mother – and she is adamant about taking custody. She plays that do-gooder in-law that is trying to take the nieces away from Lucas, so we’re supposed to hate her, but really… she can take better care of the kids financially, but when she checks up on the girl and finds bruises – and the girls are in the sole care of this girl that you know she is convinced is a drug addict… Well, she is set up to be a “red shirt” for sure… but… if you look, Jane Moffat is also the voice of Mama. Both characters are well meaning women that missed out on each having children and are struck with a magnificent obsession to be Mama. I like that Jane is both – it adds a little something that I like.
THEN there’s Dr. Dreyfuss – he’s the head shrink that gets these girls, and he can smell book. He discovers the truth about Mama, but never suspects that this spirit could affect him. I mean, I believe in ghosts, but I do not believe a ghost can harm me. As a result, I think a lot like Dr. Dreyfuss… that being said, no fucking way I go to that cabin on my own. Nope. Not me, No Way… so what I’m saying is, I’m more of a chickenshit than Dr Dreyfuss.
I love that every character in the movie is someone that I can understand and see their perspective. I love that nobody is really evil – and I love that it feels like a modern Grimm’s Fairy Tale. But like the scariest one.
There are things that a few characters do that I myself would mentally not allow myself to do – but that generally goes back to why these characters are generally better people than me. Supernatural shit on this level? Give MAMA the kids and just go.
Congrats – this spirit is so powerful it can raise children. I’m not prejudiced. Spectral parenting is something I’m open to – and because I love BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – I don’t judge different parenting options… Seems amazing children can come from a variety of options – and spectral parenting seems perfectly fine – when you have a situation where a crazy ghost wants to raise children… having seen MAMA twice… let me tell you… ABANDON THE KIDS.
Now obviously these characters are really good people, so that’s not on the table of options – and really, when you have a supernatural maternal nightmare… most options suck. I have to say though… They did alright. I still think that the characters that are around at the end of this tale? Well, they’ve more explaining to do than I’d ever want… and I’m pretty sure that telling the truth is off the table, so I’m not sure that the film leaves us or them in any state other than shock.
When help arrives, when questions get asked…. It will be impossible to explain. But I love that about the film. These characters have a completely unique adventure that they’ll never be able to convince anyone on Earth about – and society will want its pound of flesh for what happens here.
Chastain really is tremendous in the film, but the girls – they’re jaw-dropping performances. The film can make you cry… in fact I’m not sure you can not cry at this film, but then some of you are some real hard muthers… Not me, there’s sadness and I’m an emphatic person.
MAMA is the scariest of the Guillermo Del Toro produced horrors. At least for me. But then my scariest nightmare is the thought of my mother haunting me. Watching a film like this, well it feeds those feelings. I love to be scared. It’s just so invigorating. A movie that makes you listen to the silence around you afterwards… and hear things.
Mama lives in the walls of the houses she occupies in the film. Mama scratches. For the two weeks prior to the screening of the film… until the first week of this year… Things were scratching in the walls of my bedroom. If you have shit living in the walls of your home… you might want to hold off till the scratching stops on this one. But if you’d rather think about evil spirits than RATS or SQUIRRELS or RACCOONS or CATS that might have gotten into the crawlspaces of the house…. Then see the film, probably more than once.
MAMA is the kind of horror where sleepless nights are a possibility. You’ve been warned.