Annabel (Jessica Chastain) seems to have a good life. She plays bass in a band, has a good relationship with her boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldu), and they are about to bring home his two nieces to live with them. Oh sure, they were left out in the middle of nowhere after their father went crazy and killed their mother, but they seem to be doing just fine, right? After all, they have lasted alone for over five years by themselves, so what’s the problem? The problem was that their main caretaker was this ghost who now watches over the children. When Anabel and Lucas bring the children named Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelsse) into their homes, it makes them the parental units. This makes the ghost, Mama, extremely jealous and therefore ready to do some horrible ghost-like things.
Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), this adaptation of the short film by Andres Muschietti has a very good premise and, through most of it, I was extremely interested with most of these characters, especially the young girls. They never overplay the creepy factor like most children in horror movies. They are just naturally odd. I swear, I mean that as a genuine compliment. If the whole movie was just about them and no one else, I would be fine with that. In fact it would have been better to not have any lead adult characters in this story. Instead, it should have focused on Victoria and Lilly who are the odd ones in school. They live outside of town in an old, worn-down shack, and no one has seen either of their parents. The school board has asked many times to visit with their mother or father, but the girls reply politely that their father is away on business and mother is ill. I’m not too sure of what would happen next, but you could build on that story and make other fascinating characters too. The two adult leads in the actual movie are not as interesting and become the stock, cliché parents in every horror tale. They never believe the kids until a monster is chasing them down the hallway, and they become heroes for basically doing nothing except for being there at the right moment. I’m not sure if this was made before or after Zero Dark Thirty but Jessica Chastain is barely recognizable in this, and it’s not because of her lack of red hair either. She just never sold me as the whole rockstar person who never wanted kids. Daniel Kash, who plays the psychiatrist watching the girls, was also irritating. He knows that something is wrong with the house and can see that something is trying to harm them, but does he give a warning? No, he just drives off and is never seen again. He may have come back for the epilogue, but by then it was too late for me to care.
Sometimes the best monsters are the ones that are not shown as often. The shark from Jaws is a prime example. When Victoria and Lilly were in Mama’s presence, it was pretty damn scary because she was never fully shown, and what I envisioned during those moments made me feel uneasy. After she is shown, I began laughing because all of the mystery and suspense about that character was removed. She became just another horror monster and not a great one either. Don’t get me wrong, it had potential to be one, and if they focused the story more from her point of view(yes another way to turn this cliché story around) it could have caught the audience off guard a little. The biggest insult to this character was to make her all evil and frightening throughout the whole movie and then suddenly make her somewhat sympathetic. That kind of trope works best in a kids’ film, not in this. I wonder how many people saw the title Mama and thought this was going to be a safe horror flick. When I saw two women bring in a four-year old to watch this, it was clear they hadn’t done much research. In the first ten minutes, a young child has a gun held to her head, and that was right when the two women walked out. Thinking back on the whole experience, I kinda wish I did the same.