Skip to main content

Review: Frightening Lullabies (Mama)

A mother's love is perhaps the strongest bond there is. It has the power to make a child better and, alternatively, fester into something unholy.

The night of their mother's murder, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) escape to a cold, battered cabin for the better part of five years. How they managed to survive is unknown. Over that time they become feral and dependent on Mama to live. Eventually, they are discovered by a passerby and transported to an institute where they are treated.

Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) searched frantically for them over that time and when they are found, the couple offers to take Victoria and Lilly in. Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) assures the two of them that Victoria and Lilly will readjust to society with few hitches. He would like to keep the two girls there for further study, but something about the man sets Lucas and Annabel on edge.

While Lucas seems ready for this sudden change, Annabel isn't terribly suited for the role of caregiver, she is in her own state of arrested development. Her introduction as a punk-rock bass player celebrating a negative pregnancy test seems contradictory to all of the mothers Chastain has played before (Tree of Life, Take Shelter), but Annabel gives her a chance to stretch.

Hesitantly, Annabel imparts onto the girls a new way of life. The anti-establishment rocker is now called Mom. As she grows closer to the two, the love imparted onto Lucas and Annabel is too much for Mama to bear. She will reclaim her young.

Transitioning a short into a feature-length film is seldom easy and infrequently does it turn out as well as the inspirational piece (Neil Blomkamp's District 9 being the exception). Creature design, as usual in Del Toro productions, is a plus. Mama shifted from being primarily a CGI creation in the short to a monster made up of practical effects.

Practical effects, make-up, and some computer modifications are used in stunning effect to create one of the better horror characters. Partially inspired by the Modigliani painting the Muschiettis had, Mama is so disturbing because she could pass for human at a distance, but the closer she gets to the screen, it is terrifyingly clear she isn't human.

While Mama is only a Guillermo Del Toro production, the fairy tale themes embodied throughout are always a welcome reminder of how effective the genre can be when the material is treated with honesty and an authentic passion for horror rather than gore. There are a few technical flaws with the film's editing, but most of that is easily ignored because of Chastain's lead performance and the drama unfolding onscreen.

Andres Muschietti’s original short Mama was only about three minutes long, but it delivered scares in rapid succession. This incarnation of Mama does not disappoint on that front either.


Popular posts from this blog

Review: Anomalisa

Weird is rarely used as a good quality in film criticism, but few words so completely describe Charlie Kaufman’s work as weird does. All of his films are a window into his very particular worldview, and that p.o.v. is certainly unlike anything seen in pop culture. For that reason, Anomalisa became an entry on many most anticipated lists for 2015. That Kaufman chose stop-motion to tell this story made the picture an event. So it came as a disappointment when the film was one of the year’s more mundane efforts.

Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have an energy and heart at the center that is not present here. Previous collaborators like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were able to temper the overwhelming negativity Charlie Kaufman occasionally falls prey to, but, this time, the writer doesn’t have a director to rein things in. In all of his efforts to create an experience that is both familiar and alienating, Kaufman may have accidentally created something host…

Review: Selma

It may surprise many that Martin Luther King Jr. never received the celluloid treatment prior to Selma. Sure he had been mentioned in other historical pieces, but short of documentary footage, King was never given center stage. Quite shocking given the man's legacy and the lingering effect of his efforts still felt today. Several years of production and a director change later, Selma arrives as the film worthy of the man.

Review: The Salvation

Westerns have never recovered from the oversaturation that killed off viewer interest decades ago, but every now and then a gem pops up. Recent successes like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit all did well because they tweaked the genre slightly, but director Kristian Levring goes with an old school approach. A faithful recreation of those revenge Westerns made so popular in the 1970s, The Salvation envelopes many elements of previous Clint Eastwood classics and wraps it into a tidy package.

The Salvation starts in on the central dilemma, joining Jon (Hannibal‘s Mad Mikkelsen) at the train station where he awaits the arrival of his wife and son. Jon and his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), have lived in the United States long enough to build a hospitable life for their family back in Denmark. This homecoming should be a sweet moment to establish the family important to Jon, but fate plays out…