It’s rare that ghost stories are ever alike. While it’s generally agreed as to how a vampire can be killed, or a werewolves slain, every ghost tends to have its own back story and nature. And hidden somewhere in that lies the key to besting it.
This is why ghost tales often have it easier. There’s so much more room for creativity. And not every ghost must be a malign spectre, but can be good… or exist in a haze of moral gray. As it does in Mama, directed by Andrés Muschietti.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, a business man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) is driven to kill his wife, and flee the law with his two very young daughters. A car accident deposits them somewhere in the wilderness, where he finds a cabin with them and despairs his luck.
Before the father can do anything drastic however, he is slain and a new caretaker enters the lives of the children.
Five years later, men hired by the the girl’s uncle (Also Coster-Waldau) discover them in a cabin. Feral and starved, they have no real idea how to interact with other humans.
The girls are brought back into society. But their uncle encounters difficulty petitioning to raise the children. The girls’ aunt, from their mother’s side, wants custody as well. Only through a deal made to their overseeing psychologist were the girls allowed to remain with their uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain of Zero Dark Thirty) who is a member of a rock band.
But when an “accident” leaves the uncle in a coma and his girlfriend has to take care of the kids by herself, we start to see who helped those girls survive for all those years.
Mama is a well made piece. The acting is never wanting, the effects manage to be subtle enough to avoid mockery. And the story is good. Despite Coster-Waldau’s relevance and consistence to the story through his twin characters, Jessica Chastain emerges as the real protagonist in time.
Undoubtedly, the most creepy and disturbing aspect of the movie had to be the girls themselves. Their feral habits take quite a while to begin to dispel, and something of them remains throughout the whole of the movie. A single scene where the younger of the two crawls out into the hall as quiet as a spider remains particularly unforgettable. Kudos have to be given to young actresses Isabelle Nélisse and Megan Charpentier.
Despite these points for it, a few issues mired the film. Chastain’s character seemed a touch cliché. An under developed rocker-avoiding-responsibility figure who, from the very moment we first met her, was banking hard to port to avoid motherhood.
Rather than conceptualize a reason to prefer her own life to raising others, the writers accepted and embraced the stereotype to avoid any challenging character craft. Fortunately, Chastain knew how to pick up the slack with her talents. And for what there was to work with, the character was represented wonderfully.
Another issue I had was with the middle. The beginning and the ending were great. But the center suffered a slower pace that was more predictable and less willing to take chances. My attention waned a little, although it eventually reclaimed it.
Mama has a lot going for it. It is a fine ghost story, ideal for people who normally do not like horror. Or simply prefer something less gratuitous than the traditional slasher flick. Mama is worth at least a rental.