Dir: Andres Muschietti (directed the short Mama)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isabelle Nelisse, Megan Charpentier, Daniel Kash
Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they?
Hollywood has found some new ways of finding “inspiration” for movies. Besides remakes and reboots of old movies and franchises they have started to move to different mediums. Young Adult novels are now the craze with The Hunger Games and Twilight but they are starting now to adapt short films that pop out online. Mama is one of the examples. However, instead of giving it to somebody that would most likely mess it up it’s produced by the master of freaky ghost stories himself Guillermo Del Toro, and directed by the shorts director Andres Muschietti. Here, Del Toro and Muschietti take that premise of the short and expand upon it.
Mama starts with Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, as Jeffrey, taking away his two young daughters (Victoria and Lilly) in a fit of disarray. They wind up in a cabin in the woods, where a mysterious force comes out of the shadows and takes out Jeffrey, leaving the two girls by themselves. From there, a typical del Toro beautiful opening credits sequence lays out the five years of the children’s lives through a series of kids’ kind of creepy drawings.
Cut to the present and we see that Jeffrey’s twin brother Lucas, also played by Coster-Waldau, has been trying to find his nieces since their disappearance, while his gothy girlfriend Annabel (a barely recognizable Chastain) tries to support him in the search. When the kids are found they live with Lucas and Annabel and of course the adults don’t know that Mama came with them
From here Mama becomes a horror ghost story that only del Toro can bring to the big screen. The atmosphere of the house is kind of eerie knowing that Mama is there but you have the mystique of del Toro and Muschietti bringing the same atmosphere he did in the short. Both of those things help the movies creep factor go to high but also makes the typical horror movie clichés be almost okay.
Although Victoria and Lilly are Lucas’s nieces we mostly follow Annabel who isn’t too thrilled with have children coming into her life. Matter of fact, the first time we see Annabel she’s taking a pregnancy test and celebrates the negative results. Then Annabel starts to see that Victoria and Lilly are acting strange even after what they have been through. Of course that is the complete opposite of Mama, who will do anything she can to take care of children that aren’t even hers. Don’t get me wrong, Mama does cause some trouble to people that she thinks are unsafe around Victoria and Lilly but she’s doing it for other reasons as well.
While pretty creepy in her CGI design Mama is actually given a back-story that, depending on how you view the situation, makes her more of a sympathetic spirit. This also makes her a more interesting and even makes the viewer understand why she cares for these kids. Speaking of the kids, they are not your typical horror movie kids either. One of the things I love about del Toro’s movies, even the ones he produces, is the way he handles children. Victoria and Lilly have been through this terrible situation and then are thrown back into the “real” world. They have to deal with the fact that they have other people to support them now and not just Mama. Muschietti handles this very well for a first time director and it’s a sign of a good director that can make children believable in movies.
The whole movie builds to a somewhat poetic ending that I think more del Toro fans, or open minded viewers, will appreciate. It’s nice that they went in the direction that they did and it actually took me a bit by surprise that Muschietti would take the route.
All in all, Mama was a creepy ghost story that did a pretty good job expanding a story that was told through an equally creepy short.
4 out of 5