Mama (2013)

Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) murders his wife and flees to the woods with his daughters.  After crashing his car he stumbles to a cabin called Helvetia, where, just as he is about to kill his oldest, he is dragged away by some sort of creature.  The girls are left on their own, except for the creature, who provides them with cherries to keep them fed.

Jeffrey's brother Lucas (Coster-Waldau again) spends the next five years trying to find out what happened to Jeffrey and the girls.  Just as his money runs out they are found in the cabin, living almost like animals.  The two feral girls are brought back to civilization and, with the help of Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), Lucas and his live-in girlfriend Annabelle (Jessica Chastain) take the girls in over the objections of their aunt Jean (Jane Moffat).  The doctor sets them up in a house owned by his institute in order that he may study the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), under the pretense of them having dissociative disorder.  In truth, he suspects what is the truth: the "Mama" they refer to who kept them alive in the cabin is real.

Dr. Dreyfuss's research turns up that she was a mental patient from the 19th century who fled with her child and then jumped to her death.  Unfortunately for all involved her motherly instincts turn deadly: Lucas is injured after being pushed down the stairs, while the doctor disappears when he gets too close.  Also, despite her friendliness toward the girls, she may also have a violent end in store for them as well.

This isn't bad for PG-13 horror, and it probably works better as it is quite story-driven and wasn't meant to be some sort of gore-fest.  It is reminiscent of the Asia horror films from a decade ago; maybe to reminiscent, since even though it has an interesting story and a few characters one cares about, it seems to cop too much from those movies.  Also, it is more effective when it isn't doing the rote jump scares that too many movies use these days.  They seem tacked on here, as if some executive thought people wouldn't know to be scared unless something popped out at them.

Jessica Chastain is the real star here, as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, though playing a dual role, spends most of his time unconscious.  She is quite believable as a woman forced into a situation she wasn't prepared for, both in having to perform the duties of a single mother and deal with a vengeful spirit who is jealous of her every attempt to connect with the girls.

The ending for me is way too sentimental, and seems as tacked on as the jump scares.  It really makes no sense other than as a revision or the result of a screenwriter unsure on how to end the movie.  I'm glad I gave it a chance, though, since I usually try to avoid movies like this out of fear that they'll be horror in name only.  This one had enough of an interesting story that I could forgive many of its shortcomings.

Mama (2013)
Time: 100 minutes
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisee, Daniel Kash
Director: Andrés Muschietti


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