Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
What Quentin Tarantino Gets Wrong About TV Critics What Quentin Tarantino Gets Wrong About TV Critics The Dissolve's Keith Phipps Will Be Uproxx's Film/TV Editor The Dissolve's Keith Phipps Will Be Uproxx's Film/TV Editor Criticwire Survey: The Worst Movie and TV Accents Ever Criticwire Survey: The Worst Movie and TV Accents Ever 'Fear the Walking Dead' Starts Slow, and Interest Is Already Waning 'Fear the Walking Dead' Starts Slow, and Interest Is Already Waning Daily Reads: Why Yale's Library Is Preserving VHS, Who Wins When a Brown Actor Plays a White Character, and More Daily Reads: Why Yale's Library Is Preserving VHS, Who Wins When a Brown Actor Plays a White Character, and More 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Is Officially Part of the English Language Now 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Is Officially Part of the English Language Now How 'Mr. Robot' Hacks TV's Empathy Machine How 'Mr. Robot' Hacks TV's Empathy Machine Joe Hill: Review Aggregrators Like Rotten Tomatoes Provide 'Confusion, Not Clarity' Joe Hill: Review Aggregrators Like Rotten Tomatoes Provide 'Confusion, Not Clarity' British Film Critic Was a Soviet Spy British Film Critic Was a Soviet Spy The Top-Rated Movies of 2015 So Far: Defying Conventions The Top-Rated Movies of 2015 So Far: Defying Conventions Real Life Hasn't Punished Jordan Belfort. Why Should 'The Wolf of Wall Street'? Real Life Hasn't Punished Jordan Belfort. Why Should 'The Wolf of Wall Street'? When You Laugh at Old Movies, the Joke Is On You When You Laugh at Old Movies, the Joke Is On You Daily Reads: Sexism Isn't Just a 'Straight Outta Compton' Problem, How Samuel L. Jackson Lost 'Reservoir Dogs,' and More Daily Reads: Sexism Isn't Just a 'Straight Outta Compton' Problem, How Samuel L. Jackson Lost 'Reservoir Dogs,' and More Daily Reads: What Colin Trevorrow Got Right About Female Directors, the Art of Cynical Sincerity in 'BoJack Horseman' and 'Rick and Morty,' and More Daily Reads: What Colin Trevorrow Got Right About Female Directors, the Art of Cynical Sincerity in 'BoJack Horseman' and 'Rick and Morty,' and More Amy Schumer, Meryl Streep and the State of the 'Strong Female Character' Amy Schumer, Meryl Streep and the State of the 'Strong Female Character' Noah Baumbach's Characters Are Still Coming of Age 20 Years Later Noah Baumbach's Characters Are Still Coming of Age 20 Years Later Daily Reads: 'Mistress America' and the Art of Making a Living as an Artist, How Summer TV Surprised Us, and More Daily Reads: 'Mistress America' and the Art of Making a Living as an Artist, How Summer TV Surprised Us, and More Daily Reads: How 'Straight Outta Compton' Fails Its Audience, Universal's Blockbuster Year Without Superheroes, and More Daily Reads: How 'Straight Outta Compton' Fails Its Audience, Universal's Blockbuster Year Without Superheroes, and More 7 Ways 'Terminator: Genisys' Is Everything That's Wrong With Movies 7 Ways 'Terminator: Genisys' Is Everything That's Wrong With Movies 'The Gift': A Great Thriller (Almost) Ruined By a Terrible Ending 'The Gift': A Great Thriller (Almost) Ruined By a Terrible Ending

From the Wire: You Gotta See 'Mama'

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire January 23, 2013 at 1:22PM

Don't let this beautiful and smart horror movie get lost like its wayward characters.
1
"Mama."
"Mama."

This post contains minor spoilers.

I already mentioned it briefly in my post about January movies earlier this morning, but I want to show a little more love to "Mama," an uncommonly intelligent and spooky horror film marred only by some occasionally janky creature special effects. It's not just "good by the standards of January movies." It's good by any standard.

Jessica Chastain stars as Annabel, a goth rock band bassist who lives a happily irresponsible life with her artist boyfriend Lucas ("Game of Thrones"' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Their lazy bliss is shattered by a shocking discovery: Lucas' two young nieces, who'd gone missing five years earlier when his brother, driven mad by the collapse of his business, killed his wife and kidnapped his kids. After skidding off a mountain road, the father took the girls, Victoria and Lily, to an abandoned cabin in the woods. In despair, he nearly murders his own children when they're saved by... something. Now, after a half-decade search, Victoria and Lilly, ages 8 and 6, are found, living alone in the same cabin like feral savages. Lucas and Annabel get custody of them, which makes their previous protector, a strange spirit the girls call "Mama," a wee bit jealous.

Chastain is outstanding as Annabel, a no-nonsense independent woman with little interest in motherhood (she's introduced celebrating a negative pregnancy test). And she builds an impressively complicated relationship with Victoria and Lilly, who are played by a pair of very talented (and, at times, very creepy) young actresses named Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse. Co-writer/director Andres Muschietti, expanding his own 2008 short film, plays with all sorts of preconceptions about parenting and motherhood. And he enhances his scares with playful shot selection and dry humor, both of which are exhibited in the terrifying and hilarious scene where Chastain, positioned in extreme background on the left, obliviously does household chores while down the hallway the girls, positioned in the extreme foreground on the right, play with Mama in their bedroom.

"Mama" is scary, but it's got a lot more going for it than just horror. It's funny and perceptive and it's got a shockingly dark ending. Unlike most modern horror movies, which treat its characters like talking cattle waiting for the slaughter, "Mama" is about real people who are just as memorable as the fright scenes or the trick photography. A post by Jed Mayer on Press Play illuminates some of its classical fairy tale constructions, like its use of forests as a place of "danger" and "magic:"

"'Mama' is at its best when it lets the story brood on such elements. The most effective visual effects are those half-seen, barely glimpsed, and shadowy. Mama’s presence is signaled by moths, sometimes singly, other times in ominous swarms. She travels by way of mold and mildew, which spreads from dark corners into the center of walls. These dark spots congeal and darken to become wound-like holes from which slimy claws emerge. The domestic becomes wild, and the children are at once the victims and the bearers of this dark forest magic. Their would-be adopted mother jokes at one point that the girls are 'outdoorsy.' Their faces are always dirty, marked by the rot and filth of their earthy mother. Mama is real because she is dirty."

Mayer says "Mama" starts to falter when the character of Mama becomes a more visible component of the onscreen drama. It's true that Mama isn't the most dynamic visual creation (it's also true that her powers are left largely unexplained, and change as is convenient for the plot). On the other hand, there's a certain softness to Mama that I liked -- she raised these children for five years, and her looks are just strange enough to accept that a child would find her beautiful and not upsetting. Plus it's sort of refreshing to find a horror movie where the creature isn't the biggest selling point. "Mama"'s got a lot going for it. You gotta see it.

Read more of "The Grimm Possibilities of 'Mama.'"

This article is related to: From the Wire


E-Mail Updates