Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and her younger sister Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) who were left alone in the forest for 5 years after the death of their parents.... but how alone were they?
Review by Louise Keller:
Offering a string of scares to make you jump from your seat and leave you feeling decidedly unsettled, Andrés Muschietti's debut feature based on his short film is a chilling horror film whose supernatural elements swirl in claustrophobic fashion. Compounded by its enigmatic theme involving young children, a mother figure with ominous wild, hovering hair as well as intrigue from a past tragic tale, by championing the film, Pan Labyrinth's Guillermo del Toro elevates it by the strong platform of his recommendation. With its eerie visuals, haunting sound-scape, well developed plot and surprise rock-chick protagonist in Jessica Chastain, whose 'whatever' attitude keeps it real, Mama is indeed worthy of his praise.
Spectacular Quebec winter alpine scenery gives a breathtaking start to the exposition, followed by a memorable sequence in a rustic, deserted cabin tucked away in the snow-covered forest. This is where the two young girls are left by their father and where, five years later, are found, almost unrecognisable as feral creatures, leaping about on all fours. A terrifying sight. The fact that the girls' laid-back uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his tattooed girl-band rock singer Annabel (Jessica Chastain) are given custody plus a rather nice two-storey house in which to live sets the scene for what is to come. Soon it becomes clear that they are not alone.
The scares evolve naturally from Muschietti's cinematic language with flickering lights, dark shadows, an ever-present sound scape that makes our skin crawl. Some of the music cues are a tad obvious, but it all works and needless to say - bad things happen. Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), the hypno-therapist seems to know more than he is letting on and perseverance rewards him - or not, depending on your point of view. Megan Charpentier is fine as the older sister Victoria, while Isabelle Nélisse concentrates on animal-like behaviour, as she crawls, hops is a wild-child. Oversized black moths and strange ink-stain markings that morph into terrifying chasms are responsible for the ongoing audible gasps from the audience. But it is the horrifying image of a woman's form whose floating hair mass, spindly limbs and ever-changing mass elicits the most dread.
Chastain is terrific in the role and the youngsters are effective as required. Coster-Waldau, with his Aaron Eckhart charm ably plays the double role of Lucas and his troubled brother Jeffrey, while Jean Podolski adds an extra element as Jane Moffat, the well-meaning, square relation, who seeks custody of the girls. The irony of the scene when Jane arrives late at night to check everything out does not escape us: she arrives at the worst possible moment. Mama delivers good old fashioned scares without cheap gross-out and even moves us by its surprising and effectively executed lengthy climactic sequence.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is apt, given Spain's financial woes, that the first things we hear are radio news of a financial disaster that has triggered suicides and disappearances. It is a sobering way to begin what is a horror story of a different kind, in which the past haunts the present. Andy Muschietti's 2008 short has been expanded to feature length, and, somewhat surprisingly, it is well up to it in both story and treatment.
Being a horror story with a few surprises, I am not going to undo the plot here, except in a general way talk about the basics. Two little girls disappear, and we are the only ones who know where and why and how. When their determined uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finds them - actually, his investigator Burnsie (David Fox) does - they are rather feral, having lived in an isolated cabin in the woods all these five years.
Lucas and his rocker chick girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) have a tough time getting the girls accustomed to suburban behaviour, even with the help of psych man Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who hopes to be rich and famous by documenting his research of their situation.
Megan Charpentier as the older Victoria and Isabelle Nelisse as the almost wordless toddler Lilly are both magnificent, and so are Coster-Waldau and Chastain as the put-upon but devoted foster parents.
The film belongs to Andy Muschietti, whose cinematic talents are on full display. The jump scares are effective - and although all the genre cliches are in evidence, there is a unique creative voice as well, both in terms of imaginative use of dreams, nightmares, fantasies and flashbacks, and the all important Mama presence (Javier Botet) - the less you know in advance the more effectively it will creep you out.
All the departments shine, from cinematography and music to production design and editing - as well as the crucial CGI craftspeople; the film has a wholeness of vision, too, and a moving, unexpected ending. Haunting with its tragically melancholy story, Mama doesn't treat audiences as naïve fools.
I am most impressed with Mama, and given that horror movies usually bore me and irritate me in equal measure, this is praise indeed.
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CAST: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox
PRODUCER: J. Miles Dale, Barbara Muschietti
DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti
SCRIPT: Andy Muschietti, Neil Cross
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Antonio Riestra
EDITOR: Michele Conroy
MUSIC: Fernando Velazquez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anastasia Masaro
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 14, 2013