Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Mama (2013)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on November 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Theatrical Poster

Mama (2013)
Directed by Andres Muschietti
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Written and directed by Andres Muschietti, and based off of a short film of the same name made in 2008, Mama is a singularly impressive horror film. Despite being riddled with clichés and a certain predictability that verges on becoming tiresome, Mama is a film that manages to deliver a story that is fantastically creative, utterly enjoyable, and heart warming. While the elements which make this film a horror movie are at times too obviously present, the more magical elements that serve to create the film’s world are surprisingly well conceived, surpassing any expectations of the viewer. Watching the two girls, Victoria and Lilly, interact with the phantom creature “Mama” is effectively frightening and intimate, serving to visually represent the dual nature of the ghost “Mama” with subtlety and style. While Mama will certainly not go down as one of the scariest horror films ever made, it will go down as one of the more creative and enjoyable films from a genre that is often too depraved and twisted for the casual viewer.

Appropriately enough, much of Mama’s brilliance lies in its examination of motherhood as a facet of human nature, stemming from both a primal understanding as well as a trait that is learned from experience and circumstance. Set up as the background against which Muschietti’s film takes its inspiration is a story about motherhood that is eerily familiar and intimately creepy, and which serves to bring the film’s thematic interpretation of the proverbial mother figure into clearer focus. According to the mythology of “Mama” as it is presented in the film, “Mama” is the ghost of a Victorian woman put away in an asylum, who subsequently escaped to reclaim her young child from an orphanage, and then plunged off of a cliff to her death in an attempt to seek eternal rest with her baby. Unfortunately, the child was impaled on a tree branch on the way down, separating “Mama” from her offspring, and causing her to seek out Victoria and Lilly as substitutes. Predictably, Victoria and Lilly are later “adopted” by a second mother, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), which leads to much of the dramatic tension and horror movie tropes that ensue, making Mama an inspired, if ever so slightly contrived, ghost story.

At every turn in Muschietti’s carefully crafted film, menace mingles with somber concern, imbuing the scares that ensue with an ambivalence that lends some subtlety to the rather over-the-top theatrics. While “Mama,” a CGI created, wraith-like demon, is certainly a horrifying monster to behold, Muscietti never over uses her presence purely for the sake of cheap thrills. Watching “Mama” play with her two adopted children is disarmingly heart wrenching, humanizing the monster’s actions gracefully. At the film’s climax, when “Mama” attempts to return to her watery grave with her children in tow, it’s hard to root entirely for Annabel, which points to just how complex “Mama’s” presence in the film truly is. Unlike many contemporary horror films, where the monster is over utilized to the point of dehumanization, Muschietti’s “Mama” is absent for much of the film, generating a measured amount of dread, mixed with significant contemplation over of the nature of the beast in her absence, making “Mama’s” eventual appearances all the more compelling.

You’d be hard pressed to find another horror film from recent years that’s quiet like Andres Muschietti’s Mama. While Muschietti’s film is prone to both the stereotypical jump scares as well as the methodical beats of the average haunted house or monster movie, it’s also one of the more compelling horror films from recent years. Taking up the topic of motherhood as its indirect focus, Mama offers a portraiture of matriarchy that is familiar and unsettling, pointing towards the relationship between mother and child in a way that feels mock poetic, yet ultimately beautiful. What’s more, Muschietti proves himself to be just as capable as his producer, and fellow director, Guillermo del Toro, offering up a film that gives the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth a run for its money. Bottom line, Mama is a wonderful film, horror movie clichés and predictability aside.

Mama is available through Netflix, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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