Mama

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, a distraught man, Jeffrey, kills his business partners and estranged wife before taking his children, three-year-old Victoria and one-year-old Lilly, away from home. Driving dangerously fast on a snowy road, the car slides off the road, down the mountain and crashes in the woods. Surviving, Jeffrey takes the children into an abandoned cabin and builds a fire. Planning to kill his daughters and commit suicide, he holds a gun to Victoria’s head, but a shadowy figure drags him away and snaps his neck. Victoria turns around, but cannot see what is going on due to her glasses being previously taken by her father (so as to obscure his gun in plain sight from her bad eyes). The girls, huddled by the fireside, are tossed a cherry by the mysterious figure.

Five years later a rescue party, sponsored by Jeffrey’s brother Lucas, finds Victoria and Lilly alive, but in a feral state after years of isolation. The girls are put in a welfare clinic under the psychiatric care of Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss. They make reference to “Mama”, a maternal protector figure. When Lucas tries to communicate with the girls, they are initially hostile, but Victoria recognizes him after he gives her a pair of glasses and she can see him properly. Dreyfuss agrees to support Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel’s custody claim against the girls’ maternal great-aunt Jean. In exchange, they must move into a clinic-owned house and grant Dreyfuss continued contact with Victoria and Lilly for research purposes.

While in bed with Lucas, Annabel is startled by the appearance of a shadowy, monstrous figure in their doorway. While investigating, Lucas is attacked by “Mama” and is put into a comatose state. Annabel, who has no relation to the girls and is uncomfortable being around them, finds herself left alone to care for them. Although Annabel makes progress with Victoria, she finds Lilly hostile. Alarmed by nightmares and Victoria’s warning about Mama’s jealousy, Annabel asks Dreyfuss to investigate. He initially believes “Mama” to be an imaginary alter-ego of Victoria, believing she had to take on a parental role to take care of Lily for five years; however, his research corroborates Victoria’s story that Mama is an aggrieved mother separated from her child and brings to light the story of Edith Brennan, a mental asylum patient in the 1800s.

Dreyfuss recovers a box containing an infant’s remains, and first encounters Mama while interviewing Victoria. Annabel has a nightmare revealing Mama’s past; Edith Brennan/Mama was sent to St. Gertrude’s Asylum, her child was taken from her and given to nuns. She escaped the asylum, killed a nun and stole back her baby. Fleeing pursuit, she jumped off a cliff, but her child was snagged on a branch and killed on impact while she drowned. Annabel realizes that Mama doesn’t realize her child died from hitting the tree and has taken on Victoria and Lilly as substitutes.

Lucas regains consciousness after a disturbing vision of his dead brother Jeffrey telling him to go to the cabin in the woods and save his daughters. Annabel and the girls are visited by Jean, who is alarmed by the girls’ bruises which come from their still animalistic behavior, but tries to get Annabel investigated for abusing them. Victoria’s growing closeness with Annabel makes her less willing to play with Mama, unlike Lilly.

Dreyfuss visits the cabin at night to investigate – and attempts to communicate with – Mama. After his flashlight stops working, he uses the flash of his camera as a light. He is suddenly attacked and killed by Mama. Finding Dreyfuss missing, Annabel steals the girls’ case files from his office. She learns that Edith and Mama are the same person, while Lucas leaves the hospital to search for the cabin. Shortly after making a breakthrough with Lilly, Annabel and the girls are attacked by a jealous Mama, who attacks Annabel, kills Jean and spirits away the children. Annabel regains consciousness and hurries off to save the children with Lucas.

The couple spot the children on a nearby cliff, where Mama is preparing to re-enact her fall, taking Victoria and Lilly with her. When Annabel offers Mama the remains of her child, Mama transforms into her beautiful form. However, when Lilly (who, being younger than her sister, remembers only Mama as her original parent) calls out for her, Mama reverts back to her more monstrous form and takes the girls again, nearly killing Annabel and Lucas (but refraining from doing so mainly because Victoria clearly shows she cares about them). Lucas is knocked unconscious, but Annabel clings to Victoria who asks to stay with her instead of leaving with Mama, despite Lilly’s pleas to come with her. After a tearful farewell, Mama and Lilly leap off the cliff, turning into a shower of butterflies when they hit the branch that originally killed Mama. The film ends with Annabel and Lucas embracing Victoria, and Victoria noticing a butterfly with bright blue wings (as opposed to Mama’s butterflies, which were all dark) landing on her hand, indicating that Lilly is still with her in some form.

REVIEW:

Before I started watching Mama, as a matter of pure coincidence, I was listening to Boyz II Men’s “Song for Mama” and got a call from my mother. What do those things have to do with this film? Nothing really, I just felt like sharing.

What is this about?

Two girls left to fend for themselves in the forest for five lonely years after the death of their mother find refuge in the home of their uncle. But it soon becomes clear that the girls have not arrived alone in this woodsy supernatural chiller.

What did I like?

Horror. Remember the days when horror films weren’t full of cheesy special effects, plot holes a mile wide, and cheap thrills? If you do, I have good news for you. This film is a throwback to those flicks. With the oversaturation of horror films that are nothing but recycled jump scares that really aren’t scary, there are some truly freaky moments in this film that will possibly keep you up at night. Isn’t that what a god horror film is mean to do?

Basis. The financial crisis hit people hard. Surely, it will be the basis for many films, but who actually thought it would be the starting point for a horror film, especially this soon? Kudos to the filmmakers for going that route. It helps set up the story and unfolding events perfectly.

Visuals. As per usual with anything Guillermo del Toro is involved with, this film has some breathtakingly beautiful effects. Although del Toro has nothing to do with this film officially, his fingerprints are all over it and for all the right reasons. The most important visual, Mama, is actually teased for most of the film, only to be revealed very effectively in the last act.

What didn’t I like?

Should be red. I wasn’t really a fan of Jessica Chastain in this role. Yes, she is a very talented actress and it is good to see her do something different, but sometimes things don’t work, and this was one of those roles. Perhaps it was the change in hair color that just distracted me, but it just wasn’t working.

CG. *SIGH* In the last act, the film pretty much throws out everything that was working. Everything interesting went down the tubes and this horror film became some sort of drama. Suddenly, there was an overabundance of CG effects, and we were getting jump scares and murders. The only thing missing was some blood and gore. Damn shame, really. There was so much going right.

When Mama was released this summer, many critics were lauding it as one of the best horror films ever. There is no way that is the case, but it is one of the better ones to come out in recent memory. If you’re in the mood for a horror film that is actually scary and not gory just because it can be, or has a lack of blood and guts when it obviously should just to get a PG-13 rating, then you should give this a shot. It is more than worth a viewing or two!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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