andres muschietti, frankenstein, freud, guillermo del toro, horror, jessica chastain, mama, nikolaj coster waldau, pans labyrinth
Grade: B+ (RENT IT)
THE FREUDIAN FREAKSHOW that is “Mama” features some genuine hair-raisers. The movie’s monster is an undead mother who climbs the walls like a human tarantula and whose undulating hair is rivaled only by the ginger heroine in last year’s “Brave.” Linguistic analysts have shown that the syllabic repetition of “Ma-ma” originates in the infant’s primal pronunciations, in that original cry for food, warmth and only later on, self-doubt and Hallmark cards. The film’s producer is Guillermo del Toro and you need only glance at the poster for his “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) to grasp his adeptness at melding horror and vaginal symbols; he’s like the gothic Georgia O’Keefe. In “Mama,” the film’s orphans – Victoria and little sister Lily – are haunted not just by the titular specter but by oozing crevices that ruin perfectly good wallpaper, out of which flutter moths and Mama herself, sometimes in the form of a vacuum-powered toupee.
“Mama” begins with that most psychoanalytical of scenarios: abandonment. The opening, which precedes a beguiling title sequence of creepy drawings in a child’s hand, is a rush: Victoria and Lily’s father has killed his coworkers, his estranged wife, and whisked away his daughters only to veer off a snowy highway into the valley below. He comes upon a cabin in the woods where he attempts to kill his daughters in cold blood but, low and behold, the cabin is owned and operated by a more powerful and over-protective force: Mama Mia! Fast forward to the aftermath of the girls’ disappearance and their worried uncle played by Nikolaj Coster Waldau of “Game of Thrones” and girlfriend Annabel (a rocker Jessica Chastain). Everything about Chastain’s character is thin; she sports a Joan Jett haircut, plays bass in a band, and curses like a sailor because, well, she’s hardcore. Did I mention she’s a brunette here? She’s also a rival to Big Mama who has managed to transplant herself to the girls’ closet thanks to a pseudo-scientific study of their rehabilitation. (Why, by the way, are there no spy-cams in this joint?) Annabel must play mother to the girls inside a home that looks like the suburban one in “Home Alone” (1990) but, of course, this is a crowded house (with ghosts and things that go bump in the night). Annabel speaks to the film’s central contrivance when she herself asks the good doctor: “This is a joke, right?” And a hokey one at that. Like the Ramones T-shirt she dons to demark her air of twenties cool, her character is standard issue.
What is far from standard is the fact that we see more and more of the ghoulish Mama as her secret is found out. She has her own tragic back-story and when the girls’ surrogate family returns to the very cliff where Mama took her life, we begin to sympathize with the film’s glass-eyed ghoul. (This was Mary Shelley’s conceit in her 1818 Frankenstein.: “I’m malicious because I’m miserable!”) This is anything but standard in your conventional horror flick: the killer isn’t entirely unkind but kind of kin. Here, in “Mama,” we get that old familiar feeling that the thing we all love and fear the most is, well, family.
Fogs' Movie Reviews said:
Yeah, they didnt waste a lot of time wirting Chastain’s character’s backstory, did they? LOL.
This flick contains some cool scenes and a couple of decent frights along the way, but that end…. wow. Really derailed it for me. 😦
Seriously! Darkly gorgeous, the ending. In total agreement here! Kinda spooked tho
Fogs' Movie Reviews said:
No, no… didn’t like the ending. I docked the movie quite a bit for it, actually. Totally not a fan of how this one ended!
Really enjoyed the movie as you can read on my blog and enjoyed your review Colin. This is the kind of thinking person’s psychological thriller you want to get into the head of the people and apparition. Nice touch with the Mama Mia reference. The title gave me opportunity to flirt with a friend saying I was going to Mama but would be open to playing daddy with him.
Wow, I think you won that one! You can tell me offline how all that went!
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Great review. Loved all of it, especially that closing line.
Meanwhile a student today told me: I hate it when people evoke Freud in reviews. Ugh! No way around it w/ this psycho-familial doozie!
This movie is badly underrated. LOVED the little girls’ performances- they were brilliant! There were some creepy moments as well. Disagree about Chastain’s character- I liked her a lot and was impressed by the way they handled her relationship with the girls. The CGI could’ve been better but I still really liked the movie.