That would be me on the right...Photo: Universal Pictures

High 3 StarsWhy I Saw It: Placing an untold amount of trust in Jessica Chastain, and curious to see Coster-Waldau as other than loathsome Jamie Lannister.
What I Thought: Familiar tale well executed. And those visuals…mercy…

Mama. Dir. Andrés Muschietti. Perf. Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet. Universal Pictures, 2013.

When two young sisters are located after being lost five years in the forest, their uncle and his partner must contend not only with their re-adjustment difficulties, but also with their spurned former guardian…

It’s my belief and I’ve said before, that just because we’ve seen something before doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling again, as long as it’s innovative. A familiar tale properly told brings with it all the scrumptious goodness for which we love it the first place. So it goes with ghosts. But first, Jessica Chastain.

I adore her. Fell Smitten with The Tree of Life, Roller Radar kicked in with The Help, and now I just show up for her as a matter of course. Still I went in thinking, “I wonder what made her sign up for this, she certainly doesn’t need the work… horrors, what if she committed three years before hitting it big?” >gulp< What am I getting into…

More concerns: I also adore a good thriller ~ but psychological/suspense vs. horror per se. Certain imagery gets into my head and I just can’t shake it loose, especially in my sleep, sometimes for years ~ particularly visuals involving unnatural bending and the like. Good times. (I take great care when approaching stories of exorcism…) And we’re dealing with the Visionary Guillermo del Toro (it seems “Visionary” is his first name…). So here we go…

And go do we, boy. I won’t speak to Mama‘s fitness for status among the horror greats according to the aficionados, but I will tell you that not feeling genuinely jarred on many an occasion took an act of cognitive will, and eventually I simply took to closing my eyes, lest the image be burned onto my cerebral cortex. True, there were some cheap thrills (someone/something pouncing at light speed, etc.), but so well handled were they that it wasn’t the unnatural ability itself but rather what that ability represented that delivered the genuine one. Half the fun of the screening were the audible “jeesh…no way…omigod…sh*t” exhalations and anxiety-venting giggling wafting over the audience’s heads throughout. I spit my gum out early.

Here we have two young girls returned to their loving uncle after five years alone in the woods, and it was a real treat to see Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the dual role of identical twins (the girls’ father/uncle). He’s simply lovely as the utterly despicable Jamie Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and in other titles he’s been a largely neutral quantity indicating ability but not necessarily range (ex: the marvelous Headhunters), but with Mama we actually get to see him work, and I very much look forward to more from him.

Happily, the angle of twins wasn’t contrivance, but actually a strong device used to assist the children and explain why the elder could find her way back more easily than the younger. Same thing goes for the fact that the elder wears glasses. Nice details, nicely done. Mama boasts many such elements ~ not that you’ll have the presence of mind to register them in the moment, of course.

Mama does include several customary horror ridiculosities (everyone going off alone without leaving word of whereabouts, etc.), and leaves too many questions in what proved to be quite an interesting ending, but throughout I sensed that this one could end up a real favorite among genre fans. The younger child, fully feral given her wee age when lost, is both totally innocent and deeply unnerving, hinting at her utter creepshow of a foster mother; remember Nell, whose strange manner came perfectly clear upon realizing she was raised by one bearing the impairments of stroke? Yeah…

And then we have Mama herself, an individual whose name we accept immediately given that she was all left to the the girls after relieving their obviously unfit father of duty, whose name becomes euphemism, whose name becomes synonymous with “creature”, whose name becomes once again easily accepted, except for that one twist at the end I won’t get into. Don’t make Mama angry ~ she’s bad enough anyway, but you won’t like her when she’s angry. There will commence much unnatural bending, nightmare-inducing guttural intimidation, and all manner of unpleasantry. (Heed young Victoria’s advice: “Don’t look at her! She’s mad!)

And here’s what: as regular readers know, I go into blackout upon deciding to see a picture, meaning I came out of Mama assuming that she was built entirely after the fact via CGI and motion capture, á la Gollum. Um, NO?! Got myself schooled on that last night, after reading the review by Matt Donato, my cohort over at We Got This Covered. Matt is an aficionado, and you can check out his excellent Mama review hereCriminy…

So it’s official: Jessica Chastain now enjoys my unqualified trust. Mama may not be wholly original, but it’s wholly creative, plenty creepy, very-well acted, and yes, visually stunning. I’ll just say I’m glad I didn’t know about Javier Botet going in, and leave it at that. Jeesh... [giggle]


Non-spoiling spoiler for tenderfeet who inexplicably find themselves present:







The dog is fine. (And actually one of aforementioned those strong details.)


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