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So, Spanish horror shot in North America anyone, and with no subtitles? Why not! As part of Film4’s enjoyable, if out of kilter horror season, I thought I would give it a go. I generally steer clear of American horror movies as they are generic and silly and anything but scary or interesting. The cast are killed in order of cool and the girls need only look good in tiny shorts and tight tops to get the gig. Mama is different and by employing a European director to make his horror movie vision in those familiar North American vistas you have something a little different and interesting.
City trader Jeffrey Desange (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has killed his wife and some employees on a gun rampage when he loses everything, grabbing his kids and driving out in the winter snow to the woods to kill his very young children too. The car skids off the road and they end up at a deserted cabin deep in the woods. There he pulls out his gun. But he is mysteriously grabbed by the shadows and never seen again.
Alone in the cabin the kids somehow survive and are found five years later, twin brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) leading the search all that time as his brothers car was never found by the cops, and so location.
Social services agree custody of the kids to Lucas and his gum chewing rock chick girlfriend Annabel
(Jessica Chastain). The little ones are feral and eat bugs and act like monkeys. Their welfare is supported by Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) and his institute, which agrees to house and feed the family in a private property hidden from the press, if they agree to some research on the kids. The media want to know how they survived out there in the hills and so does the doc.
The kids slowly come out of their shells to recount their experience. 7-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) is too traumatized and doesn’t speak but Victoria (Megan Charpentier) more amenable.
But things quickly get a little bit weird as a presence appears to be in the house and the kids talk to it. The doc is getting increasing freaked out by his research and aware of the supernatural element. It lives in the wardrobe. Whatever it is, it appears to be the thing that mothered and reared the children in the woods and it’s not letting go. It’s now a straight battle between reluctant mum Annabel and the entity for the love of the children, a woman who doesn’t want kids from one who has lost some.
Ok, there is a cabin in the woods and a monster in the wardrobe but that’s about it as far as horror cliché goes here. This is above average fayre folks and atmospheric and well crafted. Spanish director Andres Muschietti has managed to pull $15 million together to complete his vision and make a tidy $146 million back. That is a very good sign for studios and expect to something bigger from this guy soon. He makes original and emotional interesting films in a well trodden genre.
The concept of the film is good, the mother who wants to mother and the one that learns to be a mother, the pull of that maternal instinct the tension of the movie. It’s quite affecting early on when the impossibly cute kids are all alone in the dark, damp and dilapidated cabin in the woods with this malevolent spirit. You genuinely do feel unsettled by that vulnerability and loneliness. What mum doesn’t want to know where their kids are if they are not holding their hands? The smallest child actor actually speaks no English and why she appears mute in the film, only adding to that feeling of being unsettled. Good stuff. I want a film to involve me early on.
The ghost thing is not all CGI for once and actor Javier Botet is employed to play it. He has the rare Marfan Syndrome, meaning he is very flexible and has unusually long and thin arms and legs. He plays it well. Think the rather terrible ending to Poltergeist and you have the monster. The evil spirit that hides in the shadows seems to work on screen so maybe not a film for younger kids. Even as an adult this one leaves you on edge. When you get to my age you have conflicting emotions around young kids in horror films. Even the ending is a surprise. This is definitely above average as far as the genre goes. But that’s not hard in this particular genre.
When Jeffrey kills his wife, he abducts his two young children Victoria and Lilly driving off at high speed along a snow covered mountain road. He slides off the road and into a tree, taking himself and the kids into an abandoned shack in the woods where he is killed by a mysterious figure before he has the chance to shoot his daughters.
Victoria and Lilly survive for several years in the woods by themselves until Jeffrey's brother Lucas' Private Investigator finds them and takes them to a child psychiatrist until Jeffrey and his partner Annabel can take them in to a home provided by the hospital in exchange for regular access to the children. They soon realise that Victoria and Lilly have spent their time with a paranormal mother figure known as Mama who will soon reveal herself and make the lives of Annabel, Lucas and everybody around them a living hell.
Annabel – Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty; Lawless; Texas Killing Fields)
Lucas / Jeffrey – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (TV's Game of Thrones; Black Hawk Down; Blackthorn)
Victoria – Megan Charpentier (Resident Evil: Retribution; Red Riding Hood; Jennifer's Body)
Lilly – Isabelle Nélisse (cinematic debut)
Directed and written by Andrés Muschietti (cinematic debut)
Screenplay by Neil Cross (TV's Luther; TV's Spooks)
Based on the novel “Mamá” by Andrés Muschietti
==What Did I Think of the Film?==
Firstly I'd like to give a lot of credit for a great debut feature to Muschietti, the emotion of the situation that Jessica Chastain found herself in was wonderfully handled. I really bought into the premise, it was helped along with some well-timed comedic moments delivered by Lilly and Victoria. The scenes were set up well without too much reliance on going into shadows to provide jumpy moments, excellent effects however Mama was a bit too comical looking and made the younger audience laugh a little bit too much. Perhaps making her so deformed, whilst understandable in context, wasn't the best thing to do?
From a financial POV I understand why they pushed for a 15 certificate (PG-13 in the United States) as it gave them a much wider audience, however it lost something as a horror as a result, although the largest cinema screen in Glasgow was absolutely packed at dinner time on a Friday which is highly unusual for a horror!
Jessica Chastain has had a remarkably successful year, with two Oscar nominations earned after starring in the brilliant Lawless and Zero Dark Thirty. In this she seemed at first to be slightly outside her comfort zone, seeming as though she was playing a less strong character than what she was used to, but as Annabel's character started to develop she began to thrive. The final scene was powerfully delivered and allowed her and Charpentier to put on a master-class in emotional acting. For someone so young Megan has done a lot of work in horror films, and is almost becoming a mainstay in the genre. If you need someone to portray the younger version of the lead actress then Hollywood studios have certainly found themselves a perfect go-to child star!
Now we need to give up the stage to the real star of Mama; the quiet, almost feral, Lilly.
The newish production companies of Toma 78 (Spain) and De Milo (Canada) found themselves an absolute gem in young Isabelle Nélisse. Some of her scenes were absolutely hysterical, she had very few lines but some of her facial expressions and actions were magnificent for such an inexperienced actress. When she starts to speak towards the end of the film the audible "aaaawww" that went around the screen showed just how adorable the moment was. Nélisse made this film what it was; a heart warming, if at times quite frightening, modern horror!
Only real disappointment for me in this was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who I didn't buy into as the devoted uncle that has spent years trying to track down his nieces. He is highly regarded back in Denmark, but I just don't see it, he was one of the bad things about Blackthorn and showed no sign of improvement in this, hopefully working with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman (on Oblivion) will bring out some better performances in the future!
Go and see this film to see some of the best acting performances from children I've ever seen. Certainly the best since Landry Albright showed Nicolas Cage how to convey emotion in Con Air back in 1997. If you are a big fan of possession horrors then although this isn't one, there are great similarities with the two styles of story-telling so I think you'll really enjoy this feature.
Don’t bother if you are 15, this is a film for adults only. You are more than likely not mature enough to handle the themes in this film; myself and other patrons don't wish to hear immature screams "OMG I just wet myself" every time Mama attacks Chastain or Coster-Walday! If you are of a nervous disposition I would maybe give this a wide swerve as there are a lot of jumpy moments. In fact it would have been quite interesting in 3D, as some of the scenes would have scared the bejeezus out of the audience!
7/10 – After the first half hour or so, I was slightly sceptical but some wonderful performances by Chastain and the children made it an enjoyable little feature. A great first director's role for Andrés Muschietti who managed to bring his book to live with help of an experienced thriller screenwriter like Neil Cross.
*This review was originally published under my real name at TVandFilmReview.com in February 2013*
Directed by - Andres Muschietti
Running time - 100 Mins
Classification - 15
IMDB Rating - 6.210
My rating - 9/10
A senior partner Jeffrey of on investment brokerage, has a breakdown and kills two of his associates along with his wife. He then takes his two children Victoria aged 3 and one year old Lily. He is driving his car along the winding roads, at such a speed that he has no control on the ice roads and crashes the car. But everyone survives the crash and he takes the children to an isolated cabin. He pulls a gun Victoria's head, but just as he does a shadow like thing jumps out and takes him.
The film then skips to five years later, where Jeffreys brother Lucas has not yet given up the search for his brother and his nieces. He hires some men to try to track them down. Which they succeed and find the children which are still alive, their father is no where to be seen. The children say that Mama was raising them, and that's how they survived.
The children are more like animals with no contact with the outside world, they had acted how they saw Mama act, and how she was. Lucas had to go to a family court to fight for custody of his nieces with their grandmother. Which he did win and the children stayed in a house with them provided by a psychiatrist, so that he could monitor the girls.
Strange things started to happen, but no one knew why, could Mama be real. No one else could see her, but it was only a matter of time before they all saw her. But can they stop her before she stops them? Well watch and find out.
Jessica Chastain plays Annabel she plays this part really well, you could actually believe her role, and the fear she felt, apart from the kids I would say she was the other main role in this film, and she did her job just great.
Nikolaj coster-waldau plays Jeffrey and Lucas. He plays both the brothers and I found he did well in both of the roles. You saw him more as Lucas but his part of Jeffrey was still very well played.
Megan Charpentier plays Victoria and there is not a bad word I can say about her. The character she plays is great and she does a very god job, and she is great with her speaking roles too. She will go far in the career.
Isabelle Nelisse plays lily and she is just great at it she does not do any talking in her role, but to be honest she does not need to. Just the actions she does is great.
I can not say anything bad about the acting in the film. They all did a great job and was a joy to watch.
I found this film not to be too scary, and I was a little bit disappointed by that. I love a good scary film, but yet I did really enjoy watching this. The film did keep me wanting to watch this all the way to the end, as I wanted to know why Mama did this and whether they could stop her and how. There was so many things that kept me wanting to watch right to the end.
The acting in the film was great. I mean this is not a role I would have let any of my children play, but the actresses did their parts brilliantly. I mean for such young children acting like this they will have a bright future.
I would recommend this film to anyone to watch I loved it, and it might be one I will watch again some day, there is not a bad point I can make about this film at all.
===FILM ONLY REVIEW===
Mama is currently showing on the Sky movie channels and I watched this through their related Xbox app, Now TV.
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Jessica Chastain
Tagline: A mother's love is forever.
Certificate rating: 15
Description: 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?
"Mama" is directed by Andres Muschietti (Argentina) and features Guillermo del Toro (Mexico) as executive producer, but for me I felt like the film had a European flavour to it, similar to fairy tale settings which lead innocent children into the deep, dark woods where all manner of sinister creatures could be lurking. In this story, after a distraught father breaks down and kills his wife and then himself, his two young daughters are left alone in a cabin in the woods to fend for themselves. As the two girls are left to their own devices they regress into a more primal, feral state. They no longer communicate properly and they are extremely untrusting of any human interaction. The most striking thing for me was the way in which the girls moved - this was exaggerated to depict an animalistic set of movements where they would crawl and rush about on all fours, and would also sit ready to pounce in a way similar to how an animal would observe and hunt its prey. I found this quite unnerving and it made the girls seem really scary as it dehumanised them and completely contrasted against the behaviours that they should have been using had they been raised as part of normal society.
After several years of searching for his lost nieces, their uncle eventually locates the girls and brings them back to live with him and his girlfriend. Things are difficult as they all try and adjust to the new living arrangement, and this is made worse as there seems to be a malicious force at work trying to keep the girls from forming a bond with their new guardians. The girls prefer to hide away and spend time playing with their invisible friend, Mama. The character of Mama is mysterious, with the Doctor treating their case suggesting that the elder daughter has developed a split personality as a coping mechanism to help her adjust to the abandonment. But as strange events happen around the home and people end up getting hurt, it seems that Mama could somehow have a real presence, and she is prepared to fight for her ownership over the girls.
The actors do a good job here, however I think that the male lead role was a bit odd in that Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays both characters of the girls' father Jeffrey, and his own brother, the girls' uncle Lucas. I understand that this might work in terms of depicting a family resemblance, but it was kind of distracting once I noticed that both characters were the same person. He is handsome enough that I can't complain too much, though. Jessica Chastain is cast as Annabel, Lucas's girlfriend. I think she displays some very realistic responses upon having two children thrust into her life that she now has to care for, instead of enjoying her carefree lifestyle as the singer in a rock band. Her role really develops as she continues to care for the girls, and she has to deal with some tough situations on her own when she does not understand what is going on, which shows a lot of strength. The main focus of the film is on this newly formed family unit, and I thought that the other supporting characters didn't really fit in with the main storyline very well. There are other minor characters who have fleeting parts but they are weak roles compared to the central characters who are much more developed. The supernatural touches add another level onto what could have been a very basic family drama sort of film.
There are a few jumpy moments in the film and it touches upon some of my fear triggers - cupboards! the dark! inhuman body movements! - but even so it wasn't particularly scary in my opinion. There are a few good tricks to help build up the feeling of unease - shots framed so you can't quite see what the characters are looking at, things appearing out of the dark, isolated locations - yet still I didn't think that the atmosphere was particularly tense, even when the action started to speed up towards the end of the film. I don't want to include any spoilers, so I will finish by simply saying that the end of the movie crosses a line that is not usually touched in mainstream Hollywood. I thought that this rounded things off nicely in showing that different paths can be chosen, and how we must each decide our own fate.
Overall, I think that this is a fair enough movie that fitted my needs for a straight-forward Saturday-night-scare, but in terms of spooky-kid movies there are better options out there. I would recommend watching "The Orphan" or "Case 39" over this.
They say a mother's love is eternal. And with Andres Mischietti's debut feature, an extension on a short film he worked on previously, we're about to meet the mother of all mothers - one scary lady who shows us what it really means to cling on to her love of a child.
After what can be suspected as a bad financial deal during the 2008 economic crisis, we see a disturbed, distraught man getting ready to kill his two young daughters. Why he couldn't finish off his rampage at the comfort of his own home is anyone's guess, but the film goes on to show him driving dangerously quickly on a snowy, slippery road. The car flips, and ends up in the woods after what looks like some heavy tumbles. Miraculously they, including the two girls, all survive and walk away without a scratch, and find a mysterious, abandoned cabin which he believes would be the perfect place for their deaths.
But before he can work up the courage to pull the trigger on his unsuspecting daughters, a creepy dark entity quite literally surrounds him, lifts him up, and gobbles him up to protect the girls. Yes, who/whatever the titular "Mama" is referring to, first makes her appearance here. And she is not one to cross. The father disappears into oblivion, whilst the two girls stare longingly at the mysterious spirit that saved them.
5 years later, a search party financially provided for by the twin brother, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - yes, the infamous Jaime Lannister in "Game of Thrones"), of the disappeared man, discovers this place. The girls have grown up, although they are behaving like animals having grown up in the wild for the past several years. They can't quite piece together how they survived all these years although evidence points to the massive pile of cherry seeds that exists in the cabin. Clearly something has been keeping these girls alive, although nothing in the world would ever make them think of "Mama".
Initially placed under the care of paediatric psychiatrist Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) for close observation, the girls then move onto the care of their uncle, which also places them with his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a bass-guitarist in a punk rock band who is less than thrilled by the news she now is in charge of raising two very difficult nieces she barely even knows. But it's not long before the family members bond, which serves as a main part of the film's middle section.
Of course, this jealous Mama spirit is a force to be reckoned with, as the girls see her as both a safe sanctuary but also a frightening being they shouldn't cross. And because this takes place within the medium of a film where characters never follow their basic instincts, it takes a while for the protagonists to catch on even when the signs and dots are right there in front of them. For example, like a haunted house, things do loudly bump at night, dark figures arise from nowhere, and there is an endless number of moths that follow the girls - this does serve a greater purpose in the finale, although not one that particularly pushes the horror genre. The children's drawings aren't what can be considered normal, with small spooky accidents jeopardising everyone's plans.
The truth behind the story isn't a particularly fascinating, clever, or original one. One that reminds us hell hath no fury for a woman scorned. Take a child away from its mother, and there will be hell to pay. And this was back in the 19th Century - her wrath and rage have lasted until the 21st. That's quite something. And there is a panicked, discovery process from a character who sees things one step before everyone else does, who goes on a frantic mission of conviction to solve the mystery surrounding the dark events, and when that person tries warning anyone of actual importance, no prizes for guessing what happens to this well-intentioned soul.
Struggling to develop believable links between the key characters, the big dramatic finale has far less of an impact. Between the two young sisters the child actresses (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelise) both do an immense job and interact brilliantly well with one another. Less well done is Annabel's relationships with the girls. Her growth and maturation throughout the few months feel rushed and despite Chastain's best acting efforts, the script does very little to explain or support her actions. A good length of time is spent trying to get some sort of depth materialised between the new mother figure and the two young children; one that was possibly to serve as a contrast between what the "Mama" spirit considers to be love and devotion and what the hard-working, initially uninterested Annabel manages to conjure up from her heart. But there is a distinct lack of any genuine emotions to fill the rest of the film when it's not trying to scare the audience.
But no matter how very little sense it makes overall, the director is never distracted enough to shy away from paying close attention to his highly effective chilling, gothic setting. It would be best not to think of this as a full-on horror, but more as a dark, twisted fairy tale fantasy. When Mama does fully manifest to become her normal self, the result is a hauntingly well-designed one (in actuality this role was played by a man - who would have thought?), also with stylish touches put on here and there in various flashback sequences to tell her origins story. And essentially if nothing else, "Mama" showcases promising talent - it further boasts Chastain's never-ending versatility as a lead actress, and a director who has firmly established himself as one to watch.
* Film only review.
Mama is a 2013 horror film directed by Andrés Muschietti, starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Annabel and Lucas, a young couple who take on the role of caring for Lucas's two nieces, Victoria and Lily, five years after their father kills their mother then flees with his two daughters only to crash his car on a snowy road in the mountains. Although they all survive the crash and stumble across what appears to be a deserted cabin in the woods, it appears they are not alone. Preparing to take the lives of his daughters and commit suicide, the father does not get a chance to carry this out, as his life is abruptly ended by something or someone in the cabin.
Fast forward five years and Lucas has been searching for his brother and nieces all this time, before the two girls are eventually found, still alive and still residing in the cabin in the woods where they first took shelter with their father five years before. The two little girls however, are not quite the same little girls they were five years ago...
Lucas and a very reluctant Annabel, realise they don't have an easy task ahead of them caring for the girls and with only a small income and equally small apartment, it looks as if custody of the girls will instead go to a rich Aunt, but with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss, who offers the couple a new home if he can work with the girls and perform case studies, they are granted custody. However, things become even more difficult than the couple could have imagined, when it appears that the girls already have someone to care for them.... their 'Mama'....
It had been a while since I had seen a decent horror movie. Usually I personally find they start off poor and remain poor, or begin by offering great promise but then fail to deliver as it all gets rather silly. Therefore I wasn't expecting much from 'Mama' (rated 15) when I saw it at the cinema recently, but I was surprised to find I quite enjoyed this movie.
The storyline was somewhat predictable I cannot deny, but there was plenty of suspense from start to finish and some real jump and scare moments to prevent you getting too comfortable and I thought the acting was quite good. The children especially were very convincing and I found it was one of those films where you may find yourself wondering just how they had managed to film this movie without damaging them for life!
Thankfully the ending wasn't predictable and this was a plus for me and made up for the very slight niggles I felt.
Jessica Chastain played the part of Annabel very well. It seemed fairly obvious her character was going to be a very reluctant and apprehensive substitute mother to the girls, who then finds herself becoming quite attached to them, but she portrayed it well enough to make her character interesting. Even though I was getting annoyed by her walking down dark corridors in the house after hearing a noise (why not put a light on?) as you just know something or someone is just around the next corner or about to jump out at any time, I realised that in order to maintain the suspense it has to be this way and thankfully there was enough about her character to detract from any predictability with the story.
Speaking of the story, I found I was reminded a little of 'The Woman In Black' although Mama is far scarier and has much more to keep you on the edge of your seat. I wasn't actually expecting to actually see what or whom 'Mama' actually is/was at first, but you do. However, I still can't decide whether or not this was too much. I think the only thing that spoiled Mama was that maybe by the end of the film it wasn't as scary anymore as the first two thirds had been. Guilermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) is the executive producer here and I felt that Mama certainly had a touch of 'scary fairytale' about it, which anyone who has seen Pan's Labyrinth, will know what I am referring to when they see 'Mama' appear.
Overall I found Mama to be the best jump and scare 'horror' film I have seen for some time. The acting and the cinematography was very good with clever camera angles and enough to keep the suspense going from start to finish. Any predictability in the storyline didn't bother me as my interest was maintained throughout and the 'unpredictable' ending was a bonus too.
Well worth a watch.