Don’t go down to the woods today
DIRECTOR: Andrés Muschietti
CAST: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse
CLASSIFICATION: 16 VH
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
DESPITE a rather confusing storyline, Mama scores high on the scare factor. Director Andrés Muschietti goes old-school scary, relying on suggestion and inference to create a foreboding atmosphere with the help of some disturbing visuals.
Even when you know exactly where the story is going, he builds the tension and fashions an unpredictable ending, creating a film that will scare you if you let it.
About three-quarters of the way through, it starts feeling rather contrived when Mama walks through the plotholes, but that ending saves the day.
The feature takes its cues from a three-minute short director Muschietti made in 2008 and the story still revolves around the relationship between two girls.
It starts when their father takes them into the woods intent on committing a family murder, but he doesn’t get the chance.
Fast-forward five years and their uncle hasn’t given up on trying to find out what happened to his family.
He has asked two hunters to search the woods, and their first glimpse of the two feral girls is beyond creepy.
A couple of weeks of good old psychiatric paediatric therapy follow and the children are released into the care of their uncle Lukas (Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain).
Chastain is in completely different mode to whatever she was drawing on for Zero Dark Thirty. Here she plays a reluctant mother figure to the girls who is nowhere near as focused as her Oscar-nominated character.
Annabel professes to be much more interested in pursuing her career as a rock chick, but her mothering instinct is unexpectedly sparked when she is left to take charge of the two.
As such, Annabel becomes the focus for all sorts of ghostly attention as the girls become more attached to her practical but warm approach.
The more possessive side of motherhood is portrayed by the Mama character, who becomes more and more corporeal as the girls’ psychiatrist tries to figure out what is going on.
In some ways, his clinical approach, as he gathers information for a paper for a medical journal, is the scariest part of the film, as his insensitive search for the truth is realistic.
Then there’s the protective relationship between the older Victoria (Charpentier) and the more feral Lilly (Nélisse), who have to learn how to become human again, something Lilly struggles with because she was only a year when they were left alone in the woods.
This mother-child relationship turns out to be a strong motif in the film, but it is overtaken by the need to explain Mama.
Where things fall apart is that a back story is created for the Mama entity, taking the film out of the realm of suggestion and psych mind games into not-so-scary ghost story mode. Even though the film doesn’t descend into slasher territory, the CGI undoes all the shadowed terror and angst evoked by motherly love morphed into possessiveness.
As long as it stays in creepy mode with scary moths fluttering in the shadows, your imagination is creating an even more terrifying explanations, because as nice as mothers are, they can also be the scariest influence in your life when you are not doing as you’re told.
Just ask Coraline.
If you liked… The Woman in Black or The Orphanage… you will enjoy this.