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Watching "Mama"
Published on February 14, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new horror movie "Mama."

Here's an excerpt:

“'Mama' is billed as a horror movie, but it’s more of a ghost story/fairy tale that derives its tension from vague fears about parenthood (specifically motherhood), rather than a malevolent entity.

Helmed by first-time director Andres Muschietti, 'Mama' bears the clear influence of producer Guillermo del Toro, the auteur behind horror/fantasy hybrids such as 'Pan’s Labyrinth' and 'Cronos.' The film is elegant, dreamlike and often disturbingly beautiful, and takes time to develop its simple story: Two young girls are kidnapped by their father after he kills his co-workers, and end up in a remote forest cabin after he drives off the road in a snow storm. Just as the father raises his gun to shoot the older girl in the back of the head, a shivery supernatural being emerges from the walls and kills him.

The film then jumps ahead five years, to the day when a search team finds the two girls, now feral, dirty and malnourished, living in the cabin. The children are brought back to civilization, where their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), set about integrating into their daily lives. Which isn’t easy, because the kids are really weird, especially the younger girl, named Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse). While the other sister, Victoria (Megan Charpentier), slowly begins to warm up to living in a house with a mother and a father, Lilly continues to feed on cherries (what the girls ate in the wild), runs around on all fours and refuses to be touched or held by Lucas or Annabel. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the girls haven’t entirely left the forest behind: The shivery supernatural being, called Mama, has followed them to the suburbs, and taken up residence.

'Mama' is at its best when it focuses on the children, and how Annabel, who is forced to raise them alone after Luke is hospitalized after a nighttime encounter with Mama, feels about them. Annabel has never wanted children, and she regards Lilly and Victoria with trepidation: She doesn’t know what these strange little kids are thinking, she suspects they might be dangerous and she worries that she is not up to the task of caring for them. (As time goes on, she also begins to suspect that someone is visiting the children during the night.) This preoccupation with children and parenthood places 'Mama' in the subgenre of horror films about “bad seeds” (although Lilly and Victoria are more damaged than bad) such as 'The Omen,' 'Who Can Kill a Child?' and the 2008 British horror film 'The Children.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

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