This one goes back a little to the past in this year itself, and this is one of those movies which could easily initiate such a sequence in the eternal time machine. This is rather more of the present than the past, as it doesn’t really go back that far if there is an intellectual consideration in depth. It was different in being different, and therefore its influence had to be such a lasting thing. There is one point where all the interest about this movie begins, and that is when one reads these lines from its cover – “Presented by Guillermo del Toro, creator of Pan’s Labyrinth“. He serves as executive producer, and as far as it is known, the movie is based on a 2008 short film of the same name in Spanish, about which there is nothing more to shoot in the quiver which is short of its crossbow bolts from that part of the world. The movie comes up with the dark tale of two little girls left in a seemingly abandoned cabin in the woods, taken care of by an unknown person or creature that they call Mama, and the same entity even follows the girls to their new home to which their father’s brother takes them after finding them as two feral children.
During a financial crisis, a disappointed and depressed man, Jeffrey Desange (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), kills his business partners and wife before taking his little children Victoria and Lilly away from home. Driving too fast on a road paved by snow and upset with all the thoughts about his failures and the crimes he had committed, the car slides off the path and crashes in the woods. Jeffrey takes the children and walks away from civilization, finally reaching something that seems to be an abandoned cabin. He plans to murder his daughters and commit suicide with a gun, but then a mysterious figure arrives in time to instantly kill him and it also feeds the two children. Victoria talks about the figure as a woman whose legs don’t touch the ground. Then the scene shifts to five years later, with Jeffrey’s brother, the kids’ uncle Lucas Desange (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), living with his girlfriend Annabel Moore (Jessica Chastain). They don’t live under good conditions, but Lucas haven’t lost hope about finding the children of his brother. He still sponsors search parties hoping to find some trace of his brother and children.
One of them find the children alive in the same cabin, but dirty, half-naked, horribly thin and with an animal-like behaviour – walking on four legs and talking like making some strange noises. The girls are put under the care of psychatirst Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). They keeps talking about someone called “Mama”. He feels that it is just a creation of the girls’ minds as they were alone in the woods without help. But soon, Lucas is attacked by the same shadowy figure known as Mama and enters a comma. Annabel is forced to take care of the girls all by herself even as Mama’s visits continue. Annabel does get close to the elder child, Victoria, but Lilly remains hostile and highly attached only to Mama. Meanwhile, Gerald finds out something about this mysterious figure from the clues which Victoria gave away. Mama is a mother separated from her child – she used to be Edith Brennan, a mental asylum inmate in the 1800s. He also finds a box containing an infant’s remains from that former mental asylum which was kept as her belonging there. Meanwhile, Annabel has a nightmare revealing Mama’s past which reveals more about her. Lucas also has a disturbing dream of his dead brother Jeffrey telling him to save his kids.
But there might have been more about Mama that what met the eye. She is undoubtedly supernatural as well as tormented. The problem remained if she is normal and thus if she is reasonable. The psychatrist might have thought so, but the experience doesn’t go well for him. Even Lucas and his wife has to go through near-death experiences. So the question would be more about “why mama why?” rather than “who is mama?”. Well, mama is undoubtedly a former mother who no longer exists as a human mother. The nature of her strange love for her child is evident from her asylum background. The question might be about how much torment a mentally unstable ghost can cause to a group of normal, living people. That would be a lot of it, much more than what the mentally unstable father of two little children could do. How much is the chance of one making peace with her? It wasn’t possible when she was alive, and considering the fact that she is more motivated by the love for children rather than anything else, the solution becomes even more complicated in the human world.
Mama is a visual treat of a horror film, and not part of the gory ones which take over in the usual style. There is a well-created world of horror right in front of you all the time, and then suddenly there is a scene that takes your breath further away and then it goes back to normal to await the next thing. Welcome to this story of old-style less bloody horror movie of low gore level. There are signs of Guillermo del Toro’s magical extravaganza Pan’s Labyrinth or El laberinto del fauno, are evident in both the characters as well as the environment. There is the feeling of a dark fantasy through out and there is the lack of sunshine which is more motivating than the depressing thing which it might have become, which is a success in all ways. It’s just how horror films should be, without using any cheap or low class tricks. The looks of Mama is also a revelation, as she emerges from the walls or closet, sometimes suddenly and on other occasions as if part of all the horror that surrounds them. The use of moths to show Mama’s presence is a further effective thing, as it shows more of her tormented sould which is not completely evil, thus owl, crow or bat not chosen; neither is the wolf or cat given a chance at it. Mama is more of a butterfly rather than anything else, but a fierce one.
The movie’s dark world move along the path of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it is still not of that class of ultimate perfection and awesomeness, and still is close enough. It meets Hansel and Gretel in its witch-like creature who is less of a ghost and more of an undead freak of nature. There it shows the qualities of The Orphan meeting The Grudge and The Ring in a good way. Mama could have even made a good creature in Alien or The Exorcist, and the creature’s success is in its strange, but “suitable for almost every genre” looks. She is a dark fairy, the nature’s spectre, the tormented undead mother and the dark elf. She belongs to nature and as a creature to the living, she is more moth or a group of moths rather than anything else. They signify her presence, and if she takes the children with her, there will be more moths for sure. There is the positive thing – the innovation, for how the ghost is treated around here with a difference. The movie is fresh in its treatment of a new ghostly creature with heavy parental instincts. Such a creature is not onne would expect in such a movie, and until it appears everything might look more psychological than supernatural, even if the signs are already there from the beginning itself.
While Mama is a benevolent spirit when it comes to two children, but she is a malevolent and even a death-dealer with everyone else. She hasn’t yet become pure evil, even as her allignment away from goodness and sanity is clear by the climax scene. Even her unseen presence suggests the same. Her moths symbolize the little beauty that she has lost to death and decay and the beautiful world which was lost to her more due to the people around rather than her own madness. There are no usual suspects of the common supernatural, as there is only the variation which is Mama. The movie is very much dependent on your taste to survive, but the fact remains that it is more close to being suitable for all people with not that much blood and gore, or the display of any kind of nudity – well, this one never needed it considering its content and presentation. There is not much of a male gaze or a possible female gaze working out in this one. It is story of an undead mother’s love and with the addition of insanity to it, there is a lot to think about. There is no compromise in being spooky or creepy enough though.
Release date: 18th January 2013
Running time: 100 minutes
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat
@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.