Mama (2013) - When my daughter Joy was little my wife Elisa and I were probably overly cautious in keeping her safe. Can you be overly protective? We were always very aware of our surrounding of possible dangers. We researched whether there were sex offenders were living nearby. We always visited her friends houses and met parents of her friends and got to know them before she could go over to play. When she was small we were protective it seemed the right approach. The same care and alertness was extended when her friends came to our house also. We took care of her friends as we took care of her, guarding their safety while they were with us. Are we instinctively protective of children? Hard to say, as a kid I pretty much grew up without any supervision at all. My Mom worked multiple jobs to pay the bills which meant we from the time we went to school until the evening watched ourselves. Sure the older kids were responsible for the younger ones but really we grew up without adult supervision. So why was I the opposite in raising my own daughter. Is there some deep down feeling I had as a kid which makes me uncomfortable to this day allowing the same thing for my girl? Probably to an extent it was not always comfortable being a kid and left alone with just the neighbors checking in on you. Maybe it is the new media world we live in, one in which we hear every horrible happening in the world as it happens. We see the twitter amber alert, we get live coverage 24/7 and it fills us with dread. Maybe ignorance was a bit of bliss in the old days? Maybe all those disappearing friends had more to do with bad people and less to do with CHUDs.
Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) as they are caught up in a failing family. Their father Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is estranged from his wife and we pick up the story after he has snapped and killed a couple coworkers and then at home his wife also. We see him as he collects his kids and heads off ahead of the law driving too fast through snowy mountain roads. The film does a good job at capturing the Jeffrey's desperation as he struggles with the emotions of what he has done. It also allows us to see it through the children, Victoria at five years old is nervous, she can tell her father is upset but does not grasp the full picture of his crimes. When he drives off the road his escape, for what it was, is over and he takes the kids and heads into the woods. Finding an abandon cabin he struggles with his conscience to the point where it is obvious to the audience that he is going to end his life and the lives of his children. It is a gripping opening ten minutes and although the story has not really started we are to the point where it starts. As Jeffrey raises the gun to little Victoria's head he is stopped by someone who comes out of the darkness. She is Mama and she has chosen influenced by her own back story to look out for these two little children and to protect them as her own. Its not a secret after this first ten minute, what the nature of the Mama character is so I will not really be spoiling anything to say she is a ghost. In fact her first appearance is very cool and you can't really dislike the spirit who saved two children from death at their father's hands. All this before the credits and then during the credits the director does one of those nice time transitions where through the drawings by the children on the house walls we see they have been living there and protected by Mama. Damn according to the pictures on the walls that ghost saved them from being eaten by wolves.
In the film Mama we are thrown into a story where bad things are happening and then the protective mothering instinct changes the lives of two small children, Victoria (
The story picks up 5 years later and a lot of the momentum of the first ten minutes is lost with after the girls are found in the cabin by a couple searchers hired by the Jeffrey's brother Lucas (played by the same actor as Jefferey). Good thing they were found too since he has run out of money and searching on his own two feet is out of the question. The clunkiness of the setup to get the girls living with him can't be overstated here. He is a broke artist, living with a rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) who wants nothing to do with children. Still though Lucas is their uncle and never gave up on finding them. What are they to do? Where will they live? How will these to thirty something free spirits afford to settle down and raise children who have gone wild (in the wilderness sense) for the last five years. The Grandmother (Jane Moffet) on the mother's side would also like custody of them and has the means to provide for them. Since they portray her as an unloving bitch the writer are pretty clear we should cheer for the unfocused artists in the case. Step in the ever contrived Doctor Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) who wants to study the girls. Since he does not know about the ghost feeding and protecting them he sees them as unique having survived in the woods alone for all those years. Since Grammy will not let him see the girls, he makes a behind closed doors deal with Lucas to have the couple and the girls live in a house nearby and provide the basics so he can have easy access. Dreyfuss being the person doing the recommending in the custody case chooses the inadequate couple over the grandmother thus setting up the rest of the story. I found this set up to really be weak sauce. A doctor driven by a case that can make his career and a couple really not suited to be parents get the crazy wild kids with the emotionally attached ghost. Still it does make for some fun spookiness in the second act.
That's the thing about this film for all of the awkwardness of the setup, there are some really cool scary moments. We know about Mama the whole time and can feel the thrill as she closes in on the couple. Now Edith Brennen, the woman who would become Mama in death had her own deal which is revealed as the story goes on, is really attached to the girls. She is not haunting them but instead is treating them as her own. So injecting live parents into the mix has some pretty serious consequences for the unsuspecting couple. Mama is a jealous ghost who wants to keep the girls and not allow them to integrate into a new family. This is the drama of the film and with it comes some very cool scares. Annabel is the primary focus with the girls, a competing mother, but a reluctant one. Not willing to give up on her boyfriend she joins the family and ends up a real target of Mama's wrath. Because of strange choice by the writers Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti and Babara Muschietti the character Lucas is out of the story all through the middle of the film. Annabel has to carry the film and deal with the crazy scary to come on her own.
At this point it would be a smart thing to be clear that I sort of enjoyed this movie. Even with its flaws it was a decent little ghost story. The little girls were great in it and I felt that there was enough creepy ghost playing with girls stuff to keep it interesting. Slowly the story is revealed and we get to what is an overly melodramatic ending, that closes the circles on what it means to be a family. Now how the couple is going to explain the aftermath of the final scenes is beyond me, and the film since all we get there is credits. Director Andres Muschietti delivers the scares so Mama seems worthy to me for the scares even with its flaws.