A horror that has its fair share of plot holes, Mama nonetheless creeps over the line into ‘good movie’ territory thanks to some great ideas and better than average execution.
When Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) agree to take care of Victoria and Lilly, two girls who survived out in the wilderness on their own for five years, they find they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. The girls are Lucas’ orphaned nieces, and whilst he is overjoyed at having found them alive, we soon realise it’s going to take more than a little rehabilitation to get them back to normal.
Mama starts out as another entry in the spooky kid sub-genre, but soon proves it has a little more going for it. The film isn’t afraid to show us the supernatural goings-on, but cleverly never plays all its cards at once. The visual effects are very pretty, though no one would ever confuse them for the real thing.
Chastain is excellent in the role of Annabel, and after the seriousness of The Tree of Life and Zero Dark Thirty, it’s good to see her in a straightforward genre flick. The way her character is written borders on offensive, however. The screenplay is at pains to show us that Annabel isn’t parent material. In fact, horror of horrors, she’s a bass player in a band. (Hilariously, this fact gets drummed into us more than once, like it’s tantamount to being a known terrorist.) More to the point, it could be argued that the screenplay posits her lack of motherly instincts is a bad thing. Add on top of this the supernatural element – something which I won’t divulge for fear of spoilers – and the film seems to be suggesting that it’s both bad for a woman to be disinterested in children and bad for a woman to be too interested in having children. Thus the screenplay is demanding that women walk a very fine line. I may be reading too much into it, but this element of Mama made me feel a little uncomfortable.
There are at least half a dozen plots holes to be found here, the most obvious ones being temporal – that is, why every time someone sets out during broad daylight they don’t find the house in the woods until full dark – as well as some glaring moments where it appears that scenes have been cut out of the film, but none of these are deal breakers. Mama is good fun, and filled with a lot of clever scares.
In the end, it’s Chastain and Coster-Waldau that help Mama rise above its shortcomings, not to mention the brilliantly unselfconscious and wonderfully natural performances of the child actors, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse.Rating: