Retreating to a secluded wooden cabin in the forest with his two young daughters after committing murder, Jeffery is in a whole heap of trouble. The two girls, Victoria and Lilly, are too young to understand what’s going on, especially when Jeff asks Victoria to turn around – and pulls a gun on her. Before he can pull the trigger though, he’s dragged back by an unknown entity and the girls are saved.
Jump forward 5 years, and Jeff’s brother Lucas(Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) insists on continuing the search for the two girls. His less-than-convinced girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) is more surprised than anyone when one day the search comes up good: the girls are found still in the cabin, living in deplorable conditions. The couple are granted custody of the girls. much to the dismay of Annabel, on the condition that Dr Dreyfuss is granted access to them whenever he likes to track their progress. It’s not long until the girls display irrational behaviour, namely talking to an invisible force they name Mama. As Dreyfuss delves deeper into the facts, he uncovers a terrifying truth that puts the lives of everyone connected with the girls in peril, and opens up a world of unimaginable horror for Annabel.
Jessica Chastain displays versatility as an actress by taking this role; the same weekend of its opening, she could have been seen in the Oscar nominated Zero Dark Thirty. She brings far more to the role than what is usually required by a leading lady in a horror picture, and isn’t just the stock scream queen. The development of character however is a little confusing, as for the most part she’s selfish and generally not a pleasant person. But out of nowhere she becomes this motherly figure to girls, and I personally found it difficult to believe. Nevertheless, the real stars here are the two young actresses who play Victoria and Lilly: for their age, they exhibit phenomenal talent, with convincing turns as the tormented sisters. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Annabel’s boyfriend is sufficient in the role but is visibly outperformed by the females, whilst Daniel Kash is the most interesting male character as the concerned doctor.
The story is nothing new, just the way its told may give the impression that it is. After a gripping opening scene, it quickly settles into the age-old narrative of children who see things that adults can’t. Of course, with us being adults, first time director Andrés Muschietti restrains from revealing the titular character fully for a respectable amount of time. It’s a very effective method, and proves that what you can’t see is scarier than what you can. Even more so in this case when Mama is revealed: it’s a horrific CGI mess and a severe let down. It’s around this point that the film switches focus from the girls and their connection with Mama, to Mama itself – another misstep by Muschietti. In many instances, it could be compared to last year’s Woman In Black, but in this case due to its attempt to give the horror character an emotional backstory and trying to get the audience to sympathize with her, it all culminates in a disappointing finale that is unworthy of the film that preceded it.
There’s not a whole load of gore or blood, but the scares come from the tried and tested method of cranking up the musical score and blasting images in your face. There are a few genuinely creepy moments that almost set Mama apart from the plethora of films in its contained sub-genre, but there’s not enough to recommend it as an original piece of work. The constant score keeps you on the edge of your seat though, and you’re never too far from a potential jump moment, so in that respect it’s a success.
By default, Mama is the best horror of 2013. It has its moments of brilliance, but as an overall package it’s essentially a recycled tale of creepy kids.