Mama (2013)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 6:58 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

MAMA (2013) - Andres Muschietti

A mother's love never dies.

Based on the 2008 short film Mamá, also by Muschietti, Mama is a feature-film adaptation, after Guillermo del Toro was inspired by Muschietti's short but very effective work.

The film revolves around young couple Lucas and Annabel (Jessica Chastain), who spent five years searching for Lucas' lost neices, and successfully finds them. Unexplainable on how they survived in the cabin without a parent, the two little girls gained an animalistic nature over the years, and constantly refer to an imaginary friend as "Mama." Lucas and Annabel accept to become the children's' legal guardians under the condition that they move into a special home used to perform case studies with the doctor. Soon enough, evidence is presented that "Mama" has moved in with the new family, still attached to the girls and now haunting the couple.

Mama is a January film, and for all the film critics out there, you would know that January is the worst month for movies throughout the year. For Jessica Chastain, who just finished Zero Dark Thirty with Kathryn Bigelow, it seems as if she is approaching a smaller and less difficult role. Going from Oscar-worthy performance to playing the female lead in a horror film released in January? Doesn't sound like much hope, does it? To my greatest surprise, Mama is proof that Chastain is indeed a very versatile actress. Arguably, she is one out of many great things that help Mama be a well-respected horror film.

Both actresses that portray the little girls are exceptional. For two young actresses that do not have their own Wikipedia article, they efficiently build the theme of youth in this film, whether it is chemistry with Chastain or chemistry with "Mama." However, both chemistries deliver in their own unique way. On Chastain's part, director Muschietti smartly starts with a chemistry that triggers adjectives like "awkward," "difficult," and "quiet." Along with the screenplay's pacing, Muschietti slowly mounts on this mother-daughter relationship. With the help of the performances, the chemistry grows at its most natural momentum. As for "Mama," there exists a compelling clash between the girls' innocence and Mama's violent and deranged presence.

Mama is utterly terrifying, especially for a slender contorted woman who floats in the air -- her hair flowing as if it is underwater. In my experience in watching ghosts in the horror genre, there are three kinds: The kind that is white or transparent and flies casually, the kind that looks like a pale human that either walks slowly or crawls on the floor, and the kind that looks all black and floats in the air, and moves in inhumanely fast speeds. Imagine a human spider. Creepy beyond all belief.

Though Mama is feasibly not a horror film, it is one of the most atmospheric in years. Despite the fact that other recent films like Sinister and Insidious also delivered in its tone, only Mama comes forth with a story that can emotionally connect with the audience. Again, it all comes back down to the story and characters. If you give us someone and something for us to really care about, it is much scarier when the eerie mood comes into play.

The cinematography is probably the most elegantly played component in the entire film. A skillful builder of tension and claustrophobia, Muschietti uses long single takes, where the camera follows the characters as they wander around the house. At times, even the camera itself is a character, observing things and hiding things. Many believe that shaky camerawork builds the tension in a film, because the trembling movements make the audience uneasy. After watching Mama, you will find out that a chilling scene can be delivered even when the camera is literally just standing still. It is all about framing, timing, design of the location, and what the director chooses to show you. Once again, knowledgeable camerawork can make all the difference for a horror film. Take the short film Mamá. The short is only two minutes long, only a scary scene. However, believe it or not, the whole piece is one single shot that goes from a bedroom to a hallway to even down the stairs. Fortunately, the short film is kept in the feature film, but changed in necessary ways, of course.

This is Andres Muschietti's theatrical debut, and for a director who's first feature length film is a conversion of his short film, he has succeeded past my expectations. Similar to Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the film bears a huge atmosphere that only belongs in the world of Guillermo del Toro, even when he himself did not direct the film. Surely, Mama has a few holes in its plot, but they are small enough to temporarily not be aware of. If graded on a curve, the film is definitely one of the better American horror films, especially in the supernatural genre. What a surprise for a film released in January.

In conclusion, Mama is credible old-fashion horror, where all that matters is a legit script, smart camerawork, solid acting, and creepy visuals that do not use blood. Surprisingly for a director's debut, Muschietti tries his best and impresses as a "rookie" to horror filmmaking. Well, he did make an impressive short film after all, even when it is two minutes long. With a rather knowledgeable first-time director, and Guillermo del Toro on the side chair, Mama breaks almost all the formulaic flaws of the horror genre by using classic tension building and atmosphere creating. There is also a possible chance that the imagery of Mama herself will stay in your mind for a while. Moths too.

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