There are some horror movies that continue to give you the heebie-jeebies long after you’ve watched them. (The Shining and The Ring spring to mind.) Mama, unfortunately, does not fall in this category though it does have some shriek-worthy moments.
The film opens with Jeff, bankrupted by the 2008 recession, who has killed his wife and his two business partners. An accident in the car forces him and his two daughters to trek into the woods where they find a dilapidated cabin. Once inside, Jeff makes a fire and tells three-year-old Victoria to take off her glasses as he steels himself to shoot her, when something yanks him up and kills him.
Cut to five years later. Jeff’s brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an artist, has spent the better part of his money looking for his family, even as his girlfriend, Annabel (a very Goth Jessica Chastain), who plays in a band, is thanking her stars she’s not pregnant.
The search ultimately pays off as the girls are discovered in the same cabin. Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) starts treating the girls, who are feral and distinctly animal-like in their movements and speech. As Victoria makes progress and starts speaking again, she tells the doctor about Mama, who took care of them all these years.
As the sessions progress, the doctor thinks that Victoria (Megan Charpentier) has dissociative identity disorder and is in fact Mama. However, the director doesn’t give the audience an opportunity to sit and wonder if this is true. A pity because a psychological horror movie would have been way more interesting than a standard one where lights flicker, voices are heard, and things go bump in the night.
In saying that, there are some interesting sequences such as the one where Annabel has a nightmare/vision of what happened to Mama. The whole scene is a point-of-view shot, with a very comic book/graphic novel feel to it.
The cast does a very good job, with Chastain who goes from saying this is not my job to genuinely care for the girls. Coster-Waldau misses out on a lot of the action as he goes into a coma thanks to an accident caused by Mama. But hey, after all, the movie is called Mama. The child actors are very good, especially Isabelle Nélisse, who plays Lilly, Victoria’s younger sister.
Director: Andres Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash